For the Harwood Union school district, 2019 ended much the way it began, with questions related to a potential $30 million construction project and what to do with middle school students.

However, there is a crucial difference between 2019 and 2020; this year, the school board has a districtwide plan to guide its decisions.

The year began as it does in any school district — with preparation of a school budget for voter approval in March. While there was some handwringing over the consequences of presenting a budget with no increase — a challenge board members imposed on administrators — the bigger questions that have haunted the district for the past several years remained.

• Should the district move all middle school students to Crossett Brook Middle School, and close the middle school at Harwood Union High School?

• Should the district ask voters for millions of dollars to make major improvements to the 53-year-old high school?

In the weeks leading up to town meeting, board members tried and failed to answer both questions, and both failures hinged on a larger, overarching question — what is the long-term plan for the district?

In May, the board began the arduous process of creating a plan intended to guide the district for the next decade. It began with nearly 30 plans and eventually winnowed them to just one, which the board approved in November. It includes moving all seventh- and eighth-graders to Crossett Brook, and closing Fayston Elementary School.

By this time, the migration of students from Harwood Middle to Crossett Brook prompted board members to freeze intradistrict choice for new requests from incoming seventh- and eighth-graders; it was a decision they reversed at a subsequent meeting.

Instead, as they did in February, board members tried and failed to find a majority to send all seventh- and eighth-graders to Crossett Brook, starting this fall. However, if the board sticks with its districtwide plan, at some point, Crossett Brook will house all seventh- and eighth-graders.

With that decision in place, the board is now moving toward with a bond proposal to finance construction work. While it had been shooting for a vote in March, the board was expected to decide Wednesday night to move the vote to June 9 of this year.

It’s hardly the first time the bond-vote date has been moved — a year ago, the board was looking at having a vote in May 2019 — and the extended timeline will give the board more time to craft a proposal that could exceed $30 million.

The extension also puts some distance, timewise, from the public rancor throughout the last four months of the year, when board members debated which elementary school to close, and uncertainty around school choice caused angst.

At the start of 2020, the board still faces tough decisions, but is much better prepared to make them than it was a year ago.

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