By Thomas P. Caldwell
BRISTOL — The Newfound Area School District, which leases the Bridgewater-Hebron Village School from an independently created political entity, will be keeping closer tabs on the student population to avoid crowding at the facility.
The Bridgewater-Hebron Village District, which built and outfitted the school which is physically located in Bridgewater, had become concerned that the Newfound district's open-enrollment policy was allowing too many students from outlying towns to choose attendance in Bridgewater, resulting in larger-than-intended class sizes.
Village District Commissioners Terry Murphy and William White attended the Dec. 9 meeting of the Newfound Area School Board to see that the Newfound district adhered as closely as possible to the covenant between the entities. "We're not asking — and would not want — to force students currently attending the Bridgwater-Hebron School to leave," said Murphy. "We just want to address this issue at the preschool level, before students start attending the school."
The agreement, in which the Bridgewater-Hebron district leases the school for $1 per year to the Newfound district, specifies that classroom enrollment should not exceed "the average number of students per classroom in the relevant grade at all schools in the sending town(s)".
The 10-year agreement, renewed for another 10 years in 2009, provides for a mandatory service area comprising the towns of Bridgewater, Hebron, and Groton. Students from those towns are guaranteed placement at the school, unless they choose to attend another school. The Newfound district has the option of allowing attendance by students from the other towns — Alexandria, Danbury, Bristol, and New Hampton — if space remains to accommodate them without exceeding the limits established in the agreement.
To arrive at that number, the district divides "the total number of students in the relevant grade in all schools in the sending town(s) by the total number of classrooms used for the relevant grade in all schools in the sending town".
The concern, Murphy said, is that, in the past, previous superintendents have filled the classroom with students from other towns without sufficient thought as to what would happen if more students moved into the mandatory service area. Currently, the enrollment exceeds that average number in two classrooms at BHVS.
School Board Chair Vincent Paul Migliore of Bridgewater said he wanted to put the issue on the agenda in order to ensure that, in the future, the superintendent keeps the agreement in mind when approving attendance by students outside the mandatory service area. He successfully offered a motion that would direct the superintendent to annually review the contract in April or May to ensure compliance with the required averages.
The towns of Bridgewater and Hebron had formed the village district in 1999 when the Newfound district was experiencing crowding at the elementary level, recognizing that school district voters were unlikely to approve a new building project while still paying for the high school, built a decade earlier. The two towns agreed to build and equip the school and then to lease it to the school district, maintaining it on a landlord-tenant basis. The school district became responsible for staffing and curriculum decisions.
Murphy noted that, after the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, the Bridgewater-Hebron Village District has spent $47,000 to install security cameras and to make other security improvements, and it faces the replacement of the roof next year. "The 25-year roof lasted 15 years," Murphy said, noting that the district is looking into litigation against the supplier.