Questions still remain regarding shift in Wilton Lyndeborough Co-op school structure

LYNDEBOROUGH – With the enrollment at the Central School down to 71 students, including kindergarten, and some class sizes in single numbers, is now the time to consider combining with Wilton into one cooperative elementary school?

Are the educational advantages of combining now enough to overcome the sentimental attachment to the Central School? Are the financial aspects of the plan great enough to make the idea of a district elementary school attractive?

Superintendent Christine Tyrie, Principal Tim O’Connell and several members of the School Board presented the proposed $8.2 million building and renovation project to the Board of Selectmen and a handful of residents on Jan. 29.

The plan is for a new combined elementary school at Florence Rideout in Wilton and renovation of Central into an early-learning center plus administrative offices.

Reaction to the financial and educational parts was generally favorable, but there were questions.

Selectman Fred Douglas said he was concerned about traffic at the school, which is located on a hill on Route 31 with historically poor sight distance for turning cars. Since the school would become the district kindergarten, he wondered about the added mid-day traffic. Changes were made in the driveway access when the kindergarten was added, improving the access, but he said his concern was safety.

Selectman Arnie Byam wondered about full-day classes, after school care and parents who work all day. The kindergarten program as currently planned is half day with classes in the morning and afternoon.

That is a parental concern, Tyrie said, and adding full day programs is a future option.

Selectman Kevin Boette asked about finances. When the district was made into one Supervisory Union, he said, “we were promised savings. Did that happen?”

Yes, board Chairman Geoff Brock said, and described the situation before Mascenic Regional left the SAU.

“They took 60 percent of the funding with them. We looked around and we have one of the smallest staffs of any SAU our size.”

The SAU offices would move into a renovated Central School, saving about $30,000 per year in rent.

“It is a misconception,” Brock added, “that as the population goes down, so does the cost per pupil. It goes up.”

Five teachers are required for five classes if those classes have 10 students or 20.

Expected cost savings to Lyndeborough in a consolidation total about $96,000, and that is what Lyndeborough residents would pay each year on the construction bond. The remainder would be paid by Wilton.

“That is the (savings) number we are committed to,” Brock said, “and we can do it.”

Some of those savings would come from consolidating staff, such as the nurse, librarian and guidance counselor, and there would be no duplicating of programs.

It was noted if the plan does not pass, Wilton will have to do some major repairs at Florence Rideout, and Lyndeborough would pay 30 percent of those costs.

Tyrie asked for the selectmen’s support of “the financial aspects” of the plan and noted the Wilton Selectmen and Budget Committee had done so. The board was to discuss the question later in the evening.

Everyone agreed that the major blocks to approval of the plan are sentiment, attachment of townspeople to their school, and a general dislike of the idea of sending small children to another town even if that town is only 10 minutes away.

An informational hearing will be held at the Central School at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 12, and a tour of the building at 9 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 15.