A thriving community and a successful school district almost always go hand in hand.
It’s hard to maintain the health of a municipality if the schools are struggling and the students are being left behind.
Cheshire has certainly benefited from its school district. Each year, the system is ranked as one of the best in the state, producing high-performing students who are prepared for higher education or the workforce.
But Cheshire must address its infrastructure — an issue that has been allowed to linger for too long.
When the Board of Education released its Facility Master Plan a few years ago, courtesy of a report from design firm Perkins Eastman, the sweeping proposal came with a hefty price tag. Though the plan called for the Town to spread the work out over a period of years while taking advantage of certain state incentives to decrease the overall costs, the bottom line still equaled hundreds of millions of dollars.
It was clear from the beginning that the Town Council didn’t have any stomach for such an expensive proposition.
Since then, both the Board and Council have insisted that addressing the town’s aging school buildings remains a top priority, yet no concrete plans have been offered. Councilors insist that the BOE needs to take the lead on the issue, coming up with another proposal to submit to the Town. The Board appears wary of doing more work without receiving specific direction from the Town in terms of what costs would be acceptable.
At Tuesday’s Council meeting, at which the Board’s capital budget proposal was discussed, BOE Chair Kathryn Hallen suggested that a joint committee, comprised of BOE and Council members, may be the best way to approach the topic. Hopefully, the Town heeds her advice and forms such a committee in the very near future.
While Perkins Eastman’s recommendations may be of benefit to the Town as it moves forward, they clearly cannot serve as a blueprint for Cheshire. The Board needs to identify its most pressing needs and the Council needs to give some sense of what costs it would be willing to support. A committee would allow all sides to work together in real time, so that future proposals are covered with the fingerprints of both the Board and Council.
Cheshire’s school buildings are not falling apart. Administrators have assured parents that no students are in danger. Though antiquated, the structures still provide a fine space for Cheshire educators to do their jobs effectively, and, as long the town continues to employ excellent teachers and dedicated administrators, Cheshire students will leave the District with a leg up on their peers.
But no structure gets stronger with age. It takes more to maintain them, meaning more money dedicated to keeping each school up and running. And as technology becomes the tool used most by educators to reach their students, facilities must be able to accommodate the necessary changes.
That doesn’t mean every school in Cheshire must be razed. But Cheshire leaders need to move beyond just talking about the need to address infrastructure and come up with a plan to do so.