School merger planned for Harrison and Waterford schools

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

HARRISON — The Town of Harrison would no longer house kindergarten through second grades at their elementary school, under a shared school model included in the proposed $35.3 million SAD 17 budget.

Harrison Elementary School would become a Grade 3-6 school, and Waterford Elementary School would become a K-2 school. Harrison’s K-2 students would be bussed to Waterford, and Waterford’s Grade 3-6 students would be bussed to Harrison, essentially consolidating both schools into one operation.

The change, which has been approved by teachers, would save the district around $95,000 and even out class sizes. Waterford Elementary School currently has four extra classrooms, while Harrison Elementary School is above its capacity, with two portable classrooms used for a library, special education, math and 5th grade classes.

The plan has not been without controversy. Some parents are upset at the prospect of having to travel the eight-mile distance between schools in order to drop off or pick up their children. The shared school model especially impacts Harrison parents, since K-2 students are more likely to be driven directly to school by their parents, instead of being transported by bus.

“I know it will impose a hindrance to some Harrison parents,” said SAD 17 Superintendant Rick Colpitts. “But it will provide equal or better programming for all students.”

Jessica Haggerty is one Harrison parent upset by the plan. She points out that Harrison residents pay the highest assessment of all eight schools in the district, and under the proposal they would also have to pay more for gas.

“I wouldn’t have moved her if I knew (her elementary-age children) were going to be in two different schools,” she said. Haggerty has a son in kindergarten and a daughter in third grade.

“I can’t be in two places at once,” she said. As a test run, Haggerty drove from her home to Waterford Elementary, then to Harrison Elementary and back home, and clocked the distance at 28 miles. “It’s going to cost Harrison parents more money,” which is especially unfair since they pay the highest assessment.

Colpitts said the district plans to provide a shuttle bus from Waterford to Harrison after the school day ends. It will mean somewhat of a wait for Harrison parents who also have K-2 children, since both schools get out at the same time.

The projected enrollment this fall in Harrison is 210 students, while in Waterford it is only 81 students. A sharing between the two schools was in effect years ago, prior to the opening of the new Harrison Elementary School. Only in that case, the situation was reversed; the younger children were in Harrison and the older children were in Waterford.

“It’s just going to cost more money if we keep doing what we’re doing,” said Colpitts.

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