The Adams-Cheshire Regional School District will close Cheshire Elementary School heading into the 2018 school year.
On March 9, the school committee, whose sole decision it was, voted four to three, down town lines, on the matter. ACRSD School Committee Chairman Paul Butler had previously stated that a decision had never divided the committee by their residence.
The closure of CES means three schools will now occupy two buildings: pre-K through third grade will now be located at C.T. Plunkett Elementary School in Adams, whereas a fourth to seventh grade middle school and an eighth to twelfth grade high school will occupy Hoosac Valley High School.
“The future of the district required the closure of an elementary school building,” ACRSD Superintendent Robert Putnam said Feb. 22.
Reasoning for closing CES came down to capacity, community accommodations and total money saved, according to the ACRSD school committee.
“Plunkett is the right school to keep to accommodate everyone,” Putnam said previously.
Deciding which school to close though – either CES or CTP – was a point of serious contention. Several town government statements and four total community conversations evidenced this palpable tension, and, according to Butler, actually helped inform the committee’s decision.
At first, statements made by Adams Town Administrator Tony Mazzucco and Adams Board of Selectmen Chairman Jeffrey Snoonian publicized the towns’ dueling opinions.
Both statements – one in the form of a letter to the school committee, and one in the form of a letter to the editor – condemned the idea of closing CTP, citing the economic damages a closure might bring. The Cheshire Board of Selectmen responded with a formal statement, which insinuated town bias and denounced Mazzucco’s and Snoonian’s personal ideas as “premature.”
On Feb. 22, the school committee hosted a forum at CTP, in which community members were encouraged to speak up and address the school committee’s looming decision.
Approximately 20 people showed up – no Cheshire selectmen attended.
Snoonian was the first to speak.
“Of course I want C.T. Plunkett to stay open,” he said, citing the impact a closure would have on the “symbiotic relationship” the school has with downtown Adams. “But the plight of our school system is nobody’s fault – it’s a perfect tsunami of socioeconomic problems.”
A handful of Adams residents followed Snoonian and said they completely agreed with all of Snoonian’s points. Then Mazzucco spoke.
“Cheshire Elementary has been a good school,” Mazzucco said during his impassioned 15-minute speech. “But good schools and good buildings are two different things.”
Joseph Nowak, an Adams selectman, also voiced his opinion on Feb. 22.
“There are too many shortfalls within that campus,” he said about CES. “Please, when you make your decision, think of the children and not the savings.”
On Feb. 27, a similar forum was held at CES. The auditorium was filled to almost standing room only, and the crowd included both Adams and Cheshire officials and residents.
Cheshire Selectwoman Carol Francesconi took to the microphone first in an effort to “correct some misconceptions.” Franesconi’s comments were short and were quickly followed by remarks made by CES Principal Peter Bachli.
Bachli said he was disheartened by the Feb. 22 CTP forum, saying that those who commented paid no mind to education.
“They lacked the terms students, education, academics and all the vocabulary you would expect to hear when talking about the future of a school district,” Bachli said. “When do we talk about the kids? The solvency of any town should not be placed on the back of an elementary school.”
Bachli also added that he felt “dismayed” at the “threatening tone” of Adams officials.
Mazzucco responded almost immediately to Bachli’s sentiments of Feb. 27. Mazzucco said that he did not want to appear threatening, but rather he wanted to be “realistic.”
“There is no good decision. There is a bad decision and a worse decision,” Mazzucco said in an abridged version of his Feb. 22 speech. “Our towns have to keep working together.”
But Mazzucco’s comments did not sit well with Cheshire Selectman Robert Ciskowski. Ciskowski mocked the idea that “Cheshire is richer,” saying that residents of Cheshire “lead a very frugal life.”
“When Adams cries poor with all of the services and facilities that they have, it reminds me of a story. There is an orphan that wants you to feel bad for him – and you started to feel bad for him – until you realize he killed his parents,” Ciskowski said. “That’s what Adams did with their money.”
The March 2 decision was made to accommodate necessary budget decisions.