Wednesday, April 11, 2018

PHILLIPSTON — Narragansett Regional School Superintendent Dr. Christopher Casavant recently attempted to dispel rumors, including that teachers will be fired and the Phillipston Memorial School shuttered.
“It’s not so,” he said this week during the Selectboard meeting.
Vague information circulating about plans of the Narragansett Regional School District’s District Reorganization Advisory Committee to move Phillipston elementary students to the Templeton Center Elementary School has parents and teachers up in arms. Phillipston is a member of the NRS school district.
Christine Bennett, a member of the Phillipston Parent Teachers Group, read a letter to selectmen voicing concerns. She said a proposal to appropriate the PMS to the entire district for use as the only Pre-K through Kindergarten building would mean all Templeton Kindergarten students (80 percent) would be bussed to Phillipston. And, likewise, all Phillipston students in grades one, two, three, four and five would be bussed to the new Templeton elementary building when it is completed.
“We find this proposal to be completely unacceptable for many reasons,” she said. “Templeton parents were promised their kids would go to school in Templeton” and so were Phillipston parents.
Casavant said the committee put out a call for volunteers in November to serve on an advisory committee to discuss the district’s reorganization, and open meetings have been held for months. At the present time, he said, “We are looking for information — no recommendations will be made. There is no proposal to do what Ms. Bennett just said. The committee will probably vote to do a public forum to hear the public’s concerns.”
Templeton’s application to build a new elementary school was accepted by the Massachusetts School Building Authority in 2007. In 2009, the town voted to approve funds for a feasibility study. The Brooks Property offered to the town in 2010 as a donation was found to be unsuitable.
The Crow Hill site, owned by the state and to be given to the town, was rejected in 2014 due to excessive development costs of $5 to $10 million. Two responses for a third request for proposals for land were rejected due to pricing and suitability for a school in 2014. In 2015, the MSBA approved the plan for a new building at the Templeton Center site, 460 Baldwinville Road, which is currently under construction.
Bennett said Phillipston voted several times not to enter into a regional elementary school agreement.
She said, “The townspeople have invested in the Phillipston Memorial School property every year, and this is why many families choose to live here. Many parents oppose regionalizing the younger students.”
Bennett argued that the young students would spend an “inordinate amount of time being bussed to Templeton. There are already some students riding over half an hour just to get to PMS, it would be much longer going to Templeton.”
She said parents and staff in Phillipston support the PTG, which has been operating for more than 40 years. It provides special programs and opportunities for the Phillipston students, and is supported well by parents and staff.
“We have traditional activities, which would have to be greatly altered or simply become impossible in two buildings so far apart,” said Bennett.
She said the group believes it would lose much of its own support and not gain much from the other town’s parents.
“Our kids will get lost in the shuffle,” she said.
Applause erupted when former Phillipston Finance Committee member Ruth French said, “I want to let Christine know we stand with the PTG and want to keep our children in town.”
Selectman John Telepciak, a member of the advisory committee, said, “The people in Phillipston do not want to enter into an elementary regional agreement.”
In the original plan, Phillipston voted in 2005 not to support a regional elementary school, and all elementary students would be educated in the town that they live in.
The new school is designed to support Pre-K students from both towns (bathrooms in the classrooms; age/developmentally appropriate playground; and with a one-stop drop off/pick up area.
The Alternate Plan proposes all preschool and kindergarten students (regardless of where they live) would attend Phillipston Memorial School; and every first- through fifth-grader (regardless of where they live) would attend the Templeton Center Elementary School. All students in grades 6 through 12, from both towns, will attend Narragansett Middle/High School.
Challenges to the alternate plan include: it is a politically charged issue; repurposing of grade-specific space at the new school; potential dual location drop-off and pick-up issues; and two building transitions for students.
Casavant said that while the advisory committee doesn’t have decision-making abilities, the school committee does.
“They can vote to combine by state statute,” he said.
Casavant said, “People are jumping the gun. They have come up with outlandish things. These are committee meetings held to discuss and gather information. There are nine people from Phillipston and nine people from Templeton on the committee. It is normal to talk about bussing and other options.”
French asked, “The school committee can make the decision, not the town, even though the town agreement is in place?”
Casavant answered in the affirmative.
“I’m trying to quell the craziness in the central office,” said Casavant. “There’s going to be a financial cost to keep the elementary students in Phillipston. It will require more teachers in Phillipston. We need to hire more teachers, more specialists. We wanted to make sure we vetted that out.”
Telepciak said, “I don’t think Phillipston is going to argue there’s going to be a cost.”
Finance Committee member Tom Specht agreed, saying, “Cost isn’t an issue. Phillipston has always stepped forward, passed overrides and been supportive. Even if there’s a cost — leave the kids in Phillipston.”
He noted there is word of a survey, but no vehicle has been decided, whether it be put up on Facebook or on the town website, he said, “not everyone has a computer at home.”
Selectman Terry Dymek said the survey is not binding.
Casavant said, “We’re just trying to get the word out. People are trying to get information. Last year people said there was no trust. This is to get information. We will put hard copies in locations.
Draft survey questions include two options:
Original plan — all Templeton students K-5 are educated in the new elementary school;
Alternate Plan — Templeton and Phillipston students grades 1-5 are educated in the new elementary school in Templeton. All Templeton and Phillipston students PreK to kindergarten are educated in Phillipston.
Other questions will ask where people live and if they use School Choice; and if they support whatever decision the School Committee will make, or whether they have no preference.
Other topics to be considered are: middle school schedule, middle school administration configuration, special education services (case load), busing and change of school start times.