A thirty-second remark made by Wallingford Mayor Bill Dickinson in his seventy-five-minute State of the Town address has been the subject of a great deal of conversation, generated primarily by four articles and an editorial in the Record-Journal. Of course, I am speaking of his comment that, should school enrollment numbers decline precipitously years down the road, consolidating the two high schools into one has to be considered.
The subject of this column is not the particulars of such a move. I have neither the space nor the expertise to delve into the thousands of details involved in such a project. But I am intrigued by both the reasoning behind bringing up the subject and also the immediate impact that such a seemingly offhand comment has had on those who would be charged with “unscrambling the egg” that this project would likely be.
First of all, this was no idle comment. Granted, it was almost a throwaway topic in a speech that covered subject after subject having to do with the operations of the Wallingford municipal government. Having said that, however, Bill Dickinson is not one given to off-the-cuff thinking, and his training as an attorney and his longevity as a public official encourage very carefully worded opinions.
So this topic was introduced for a reason, and I believe it was done because the very idea of changing so basic a piece of the educational and cultural fabric of Wallingford will need years of conversation before anyone is comfortable with the possibility. For a populace that is generally resistant to change in the first place, even the existence of such a Big Idea will take years before the townspeople would even consider its existence, let alone buy into it.
And that is all that the Mayor was trying to accomplish. Not even to put the idea “on the table.” It’s not a proposal. It’s not an inevitability. It’s not even remotely on the radar for Wallingford Boards of Education for years to come. But a radical change — and this would be considered radical here in Wallingford — needs to be introduced years ahead of time in order for it to gain acceptance as a topic of discussion — not acceptance as a course of action, mind you; just as acceptance as an idea not to be immediately deemed impossible and rejected out of hand.
So that is the upside of the Mayor’s comments. The downside, however, is the near-term reality with which the Board of Education has had to cope. Apparently, the Superintendent, the Board of Education staff, and the Board of Education members have been deluged with inquiries from concerned parents and others who were convinced that something huge was looming.
Over the past several years, the Board of Education and the Superintendent and his staff have worked tirelessly to formulate and hopefully implement a complex Strategic Plan for the education system. Nowhere in this plan is consideration of high school consolidation. Add to that the fact that the Board is in the midst of deciding on a 2014-2015 budget to submit to the Mayor that appears to include a hefty proposed increase to accommodate all-day Kindergarten and expanded pre-K education, and you can see that this unforeseen topic of high school consolidation has been a distraction and, frankly, a headache for them.
So I am going to end this column attempting to perform a public service by saying: “Residents of Wallingford, both high schools will be in operation for as long as your kids are in school, even if your kids are in Kindergarten! High school consolidation probably will never happen, and if it did, it would be years and years away, and would only happen if enrollment in Wallingford schools takes a huge swan dive.”
It was an interesting conversation. And that is all it was. Let’s get back to today’s business and let it rest.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford Town Councilor.