As North Stonington considers how best to provide secondary education to its children, Ledyard Superintendent Michael Graner says his district is ready, willing, and able to accommodate North Stonington’s students, should they decide to send them this way.
North Stonington commissioned a study, carried out by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), to see what cost savings and other benefits might be realized by closing Wheeler High School and sending its students to a school district within a 25-mile radius of the town.
Of the towns surveyed, Waterford and East Lyme have indicated they could not accept North Stonington students. Groton, New London, Montville, and Stonington have asked for additional time to mull over the proposal, and Norwich Free Academy, Griswold, and Ledyard have said they could accommodate the students.
“Ledyard and the Ledyard board of education are very welcoming to the proposal,” said Graner. “We think it could be mutually beneficial.” But, he added, whether or not to close Wheeler High School is “fundamentally a very important question that North Stonington residents need to answer for themselves.”
North Stonington would pay Ledyard some $10,000 in tuition per student. Wheeler High School, the smallest high school in the state, now has 226 students. Ledyard High School’s current enrollment is around 900 students, although historically it has had as many as 1300 students, Graner said. As a larger school, Ledyard has a wider range of offerings than North Stonington can provide, he said, from academic courses to extracurricular activities.
“We have the room, we have the programs, and we might be able to do this at a savings to North Stonington,” he said.
What’s in it for Ledyard?
Accepting 226 additional students would mean more for Ledyard than just hiring more staff and ordering more books, Graner said. When one school accepts students from another district, it becomes a “cooperative school” under state law, and the state contributes ten percent more for building projects.
The state now pays 65 percent of Ledyard’s building project costs, but would pay 75 percent if North Stonington students also attended. This could mean “a real opportunity to expand Ledyard High School, enhance the buildings and grounds, and add a science and technology wing,” Graner said.
While clearly excited about the potential opportunities for Ledyard, Graner is circumspect about the possibility of North Stonington losing its high school. “Wheeler High School has been in existence for a very long time,” he said. “It’s certainly something to consider. How does this go in terms of finances? How do the people go about deciding the merit of the idea?”
Still Early in the Process
According to North Stonington Superintendent Natalie Pukas, any decision on the issue is far from imminent. CREC’s final report, originally scheduled to be released this week, will not be completed until all eligible towns have responded to the survey.
Stonington Superintendent Leanne Masterjoseph said Tuesday that the survey questions and preliminary answers will be presented to and discussed by the Stonington Board of Education in August or September. Groton, Montville, and New London have also requested additional time.
Once the full CREC report has been presented to the Board of Education, the board will make a recommendation to the town and the issue will go to a town-wide vote. “This will ultimately be decided by the residents of the town of North Stonington,” Pukas said.
Until then, Ledyard stands ready.