Now that Franklin's Brick School Task Force has issued a contentious final report - with a divided opinion as to whether to keep the 175-year-old, one-room, brick schoolhouse open - a decision on its disposition rests with the School Committee.
The task force's final report, presented this month to the School Committee, included a 4-to-1 recommendation to maintain the school, calling it "a small school that provides an effective learning environment and encourages the development of a tight-knit community. . . . It is a source of pride for Franklin and it holds a special place in people's hearts." In addition to the one task force member who voted to close the school, three members abstained.
"We didn't leave a stone unturned," said Paula Sandham, who voted to maintain the school. "I think the report shows that the kids do get an equitable educa tion there, it doesn't cost any more to run than other schools in town, and it's a safe school. Why wouldn't it stay a kindergarten classroom?"
Carole Geer, who abstained, said she did so because she didn't believe it was the task force's role to vote, but rather to provide information so that the School Committee could make a decision.
In her abstention, she called the report "highly editorialized" and "extremely biased," and stated that she stands by her assertions.
Paula Scafati, the member who voted to close the school, stated in the report: "I do not feel all members came into this with an open mind, nor did they appear to have the best interest of the town in mind." Scafati did not return calls seeking comment.
"There are people who are very passionate about it, primarily those who want to keep it open," Geer said in an interview. "I didn't necessarily want it closed, but for the people who want it open . . . I think it was difficult to separate that and get down to facts."
The task force was formed last summer after budget constraints nearly led to the closure of the schoolhouse, which each year hosts a 20- to 25-student kindergarten classroom that is part of the Davis Thayer Elementary School district.
This year, the School Committee accepted $27,000 in donations to keep the school open - $9,000 from a parents organization and $18,000 from the local dairy, Garelick Farms. In the opinion written by the task force members who voted to keep the school open, it was stated that grants could potentially cover future shortfalls should private funding drop away.
The opinionated nature of the final report was of little surprise, said School Committee chairman Jeffrey Roy. He said that the committee purposely was composed of four individuals who wanted to keep the school open and four who were on the fence.
"This whole issue is very polarizing," Roy said. "There are people who are passionate on both sides of the issue. We knew that going in, and I think the final result confirmed that."
School Committee member Susan Rohrbach, who chaired the task force as a nonvoting member, said she believes that the final report establishes a "baseline of information" on which her committee can act.
"If it comes to a point where we have to decide whether we keep the school open or utilize it for another purpose, this allows us to refer back to the report and will help us in that analysis."
Superintendent of Schools Wayne Ogden is expected to present his first draft of the fiscal 2009 school budget next month, and will have the first say as to whether the Brick School is in the budget. The School Committee will then review the budget line by line and decide whether to add or take away items.
Roy said he doesn't know whether the same level of private funding for the Brick School will be available this year, which could factor into the committee's decision. So, too, will the town's overall funding situation, which he said is looking somewhat grim.