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Tuesday, August 20 News

More clarity needed on Coleytown’s future, finance board says

WESTPORT — The Board of Finance gingerly sought to assure the Board of Education Wednesday night that it had its broad support with regard to Coleytown Middle School restoration costs, but it also indicated it wants to see more clarity of vision regarding Westport’s educational future.

“We have a little bit of a chicken and the egg going on,” said BOF member Sheri Gordon, with regard to exactly what CMS is to become when it finally reopens.

Last week Donald O’Day, CMS Building Committee chair, told the BOF that unforeseen needs for recladding the face of the building, among other things, would expand the cost of the project — likely by millions — and could jeopardize the original target date of completion by August 2020, in time for the start of school.

“It remains a concern that the scope of the work and the remediation for CMS ... is larger than anticipated,” Gordon said.

Meanwhile, she noted the BOE has not even decided on whether it should reopen as a middle school, as a sixth-grade academy, or possibly a designated school for grades 5 and 6.

“There are a number of these things that we’re looking at,” BOE Chair Mark Mathias said. “All are viable. ... We’re trying to meet as many of our criteria as possible.”

“I’m a little concerned that we’re chasing something that’s not being embraced by our educators,” BOF member Michael Rea said of reopening CMS as a second 6-8 middle school.

“It doesn’t sound like the Board of Ed has a backup plan on this,” he said.

Gordon said there were “not an insignificant number of parents” who have decided to put their children into private schools next year based on recent events.

Mathias said he couldn’t speak for the entire board, but reminded everyone it had been “a split decision” to move all middle school students up to Bedford Middle School, and that it was based on the assumption that it would only be for one year.

“We’re already working on scheduling some more meetings of the Board of Education,” he said, noting that part of the complication is not knowing what the timeline will be for the building and whether or not the town would ultimately approve the costs.

“Be as clear as you want about what you want educationally,” finance board Chair Brian Stern told Mathias, adding there were compelling arguments for different scenarios but the BOE needed to decide.

“I think we’re on the same page,” Stern said, noting the choice may not entirely meet 95 percent of their ideal criteria. “But if it’s close enough, we will have more confidence in doing it.”

“We’re there to support you,” he told Mathias.

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