Letter: A Failure to Communicate


To the Editor:

The town has a problem with funding a new building for New Lebanon School (NL), and all fingers point to the state budget crisis. In fact the problem is the town Board of Education (BOE). For decades it has failed to adequately plan and execute renovation and replacement of facilities. Invariably that results in a crisis and emotionally based decisions.

First a note about state policy on racial balance in the town, as that has affected the proposed size of the new school, which would have a capacity to absorb over 100 added students. The state policy is arbitrary in regard to municipal borders. If Old Greenwich, Riverside, Byram, etc. each were a town, then there would not be any racial imbalance in the respective schools according to the state.

The need for a renovated NL was identified as a priority of the BOE before the construction of the addition of MISA to the high school, likely even before MISA was conceived. Byram usually gets shorted in many ways.

Once the project finally moved to the front burner, the objective was set to address the achievement gap of NL with a plan that included seeking the highest reimbursement rate possible from the state. Furthermore the then superintendent wanted to vastly increase the Pre-K programs, operating cost and private sector programs be dammed. The project ballooned in size, and out of proportion to the neighborhood and site.

Along the way many aspects of the project were discussed and caused further delays: redistricting, where to house the students during construction, where to locate the school on the site and resulting debate between the BOE and the Selectmen about Municipal Improvement Status. A lot of time was lost, and cost to the taxpayers exploded. It is all our money, whether it comes from the state or town.

Now the BET and the RTM face with a lousy choice. Should the town fund an oversized school itself or delay the project further hoping for state funding that the governor opposes? What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate and adequately plan, over at least two decades, for the needs of the students. The town needs a comprehensive plan to deal with renovation and replacement of all school related facilities and the BOE is not equipped to address that critical need.

I advocated over twenty years ago that management of facilities be taken from the BOE and put in Town Hall where capability is demonstrably better. The BOE should concentrate on education, where it also has deficiencies. More about that in a subsequent piece.

Harry Fisher
Former vice-chairman BET

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