Region 7: Norfolk, Colebrook revisit consolidation

NORFOLK — Faced with a diminishing student population, Norfolk town officials are once again looking into the consolidation of Norfolk and Colebrook schools.

“This comes to light every year at budget time. The school budget is $2.4 million. This year there are 64 students at Botelle, next year there will be 56 students,” Norfolk First Selectman Matt Riiska said.

“Currently, Botelle has four combined classes from pre-K to 6th grade. If you have a class size of six, how much social interaction are you having? It’s an issue across the board. There’s been a lot of discussion about combining classes, and if that’s the best teaching method. There are a lot of negative comments about it, but it obviously serves a purpose.”

Riiska met recently with  Mike Sconyers and Nina Ritson from the Board of Finance, Virginia Coleman from the Board of Education, and two attorneys from the state Department of Education to discuss how consolidation might work.

“There are multiple ways. One is a cooperative agreement between Colebrook and Norfolk, which is regulated by state statute 10-158a, an agreement between Norfolk and Colebrook’s Board of Ed, in which they’d say we’d like you to come up with a figure to send kids to Colebrook on a tuition basis, paid through local taxes. We’d still retain some status with the Board of Ed, so there’d be some oversight with Norfolk Board of Education.

“The second option is a consolidation between Colebrook and Norfolk. That’s a longer process with a lot of paperwork with the Department of Education. There’s a lot to hash out because you’re combining two schools. Colebrook voted it down eight years ago.”

“Then it would be a question of which school site would better serve the students. Obviously both towns would like to retain both schools. Norfolk’s is in very good condition.”

“In the first agreement, we’d be sending students to Colebrook, but with the cooperative agreement, we could have students from North Canaan or even Winsted. I’m not sure how that’d work; we’d have to come up with tuition.”

Board of Education member Ann DeCerbo said, “The focus of the Norfolk Board of Ed is the quality of education for our students. Our board constantly considers and evaluates real-world solutions – including but not limited to consolidation.  It is important to note, though, that consolidation doesn’t solve the educational, social, and financial issues facing Norfolk.  It does feel clear, however, that not having a home-town school would not be helpful for attracting families to our town.”

“Cooperation with Colebrook is not something new. Botelle already cooperates with Colebook on a regular basis through combined field trips, cultural and social programming, professional development, and in a myriad of other informal collaborative ways,” she added.

Board of Education member John DeShazo said “We are looking into ways to make Botelle thrive, given what we have the power to do as a board.  One idea that was raised at our last board meeting, which can be viewed online, is augmenting our existing curriculum with an after school program that could offer students more specific, deeper learning in STEM subjects and the arts.  We already have a maker space and we have had EdAdvance facilitate Personal Interest Projects (PIPS) at Botelle, and we are looking into ways to expand those programs.

“The board’s focus is on making the education at Botelle the best education that we can provide.  We are all stakeholders in the school.  We should all be working to do what we can to make Botelle an outstanding school.”

Asked further about financing the additional cost per student, Riiska said “Mike Sconyers and I were just at the Regional 7 Board of Education meeting. Their per pupil cost is about $25,500. You’d work that out through funds raised through taxes just like our regular Board of Education budget and we’d still have to maintain our school as a town.”

One critical factor is that the school population has dropped drastically. At one time Botelle had 250 students.

“Thirty years ago when my daughter was there, there were 140 kids. Part of that is the cost of homes and rentals. We have a huge issue with lack of affordable inventory. It’s all connected, you can’t talk about one thing without the other,” Riiska said.

Quality jobs are also a factor in attracting families with children to Norfolk. “There are jobs out there but how well they pay is another question,” Riiska says.

Currently, the prospect of further consolidation is still tentative and nothing has  been decided.

The Board of Education will meet again next week, and the discussion will continue. Critical questions regarding costs, best use of funds, and working with a tight budget remain in play. “It’s a long discussion; there’s no magic wand,” Riiska said.

Latest News

P&Z approves Victorian bed and breakfast

KENT — Following a public hearing and discussion, the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) at its meeting Thursday, March 14, unanimously approved a special permit application from 81 Victorian Kent for a change of use from boarding house to bed and breakfast.

Wesley Wyrick, P&Z chairman, indicated that the application applied only to the front building, the gingerbread Victorian dating to the 1880s, not to the apartment building in the rear.

Keep ReadingShow less
Stay Informed

Each week The Lakeville Journal and The Millerton News publish a series of newsletters designed to help you stay informed, entertained and engaged with your community.

To subscribe, simply click the button below and select the newsletters you would like to receive. And then, keep an eye on your inbox.

Keep ReadingShow less
Graceful stitching at the altar

An assortment of kneelers and pillows in needlepoint’ there are some done in crewel as well. Note the symbols used throughout the items.

Judith O'Hara Balfe

So much of what we know about religion comes from the written word, but much can be found in paintings, sculptures — and needlework.

Famous tapestries hang in castles and museums around the world, but some of the most beautiful pieces can be found on altars, on kneelers, and in the vestments and hangings found in great cathedrals and in some small country churches.

Keep ReadingShow less
Spanish sonatas and serenades for Easter

José Manuel Gil de Gálvez, left, took a bow with members of the Málaga Chamber Orchestra at The Hotchkiss School Music Center.

Alexander Wilburn

Adding some international vigor to Easter Weekend — or Semana Santa, “The Holy Week,” as it’s known in Spain — The Hotchkiss School held a performance by the Spanish string ensemble the Málaga Chamber Orchestra in the Esther Eastman Music Center on Saturday evening, March 30. Featuring six violins, two violas, two cellos, and a double bass, the chamber music orchestra, which has performed across Europe and the U.S., is led by violinist and Grammy-nominated music producer José Manuel Gil de Gálvez. He has shared the stage with renowned musicians like classical and flamenco guitarist Pepe Romero and South Korean classical cellist Hee-Young Lim and performed at locations like The Berlin Philharmonie, The Laeiszhalle in Hamburg, and The Seoul Arts Center.

With a flamboyant head of long ringlet curls and a mustache/goatee combination reminiscent of Colin Firth’s Elizabethan lord in “Shakespeare in Love,” Gil de Gálvez is a theatrical violinist to take in live, infusing his playing with a passionate performance that heats up lively numbers like the opening Spanish serenade, “Impresiones de España” by 19th-century composer Joaquín Malats. Gil de Gálvez was in full command during his captivating violin solo, “Adiós a la Alhambra” by composer Jesús de Monasterio, who served as honorary violinist of the Capilla Real de Madrid. “Adiós” is an example of de Monasterio’s Alhambrism style, the 19th-century nationalist romantic movement, which, like the contemporary Málaga Chamber Orchestra, was keenly interested in the restoration of music from the Spanish popular heritage.

Keep ReadingShow less