Bruce Kimmel is a former Board of Education member and former Common Council member.
Long ago, in the late 22nd Century, a city called NeverWoke, located in the northeastern quadrant, was officially designated a ghost town. Historians have long debated what precipitated the demise of what was once a pleasant town with a population as high as 90,000. However, the recent discovery of a trove of documents under the remains of an abandoned school building sheds light on the factors that led to its drastic decline.
Before the discovery, NeverWoke was known as the “homeschooling capital” in what was called Connecticut. Having children stay home instead of attending regular school was popular, though expensive, in the latter decades of the 21st Century, but nobody has been able to explain until now why so many families in NeverWoke opted to school their kids at home.
The story began, according to historians, when an agency called the “Board of Education,” after years of neglecting school facilities, agreed to build a new school at a location referred to as the “Ely site.” What transpired after the announcement confounds the experts.
Many of the documents indicate the local political elite, especially at what was then called “the state level,” did not support construction of the new school. These local elites did not want to create additional recreational space for children in an area that was, in the language of the time, “passive open space occasionally used for barbecues and picnics.” Interestingly, the documents indicate most families in the area strongly supported construction of the new school.
During the squabble over the “Ely site,” a member of the state elite concocted a plan to demolish an existing high school and replace it with a “state of the art” high school in which the state would pay most of the cost. According to records, the “Board of Education” did not support the plan but reluctantly went along with the proposal because the state promised to pay 80 percent of the bill. The educational board was more concerned with conditions in the elementary schools, which were run-down and overcrowded. (A few documents describe a movement, called the “Fix Them First Coalition,” which believed the money would be better spent maintaining the city’s deteriorating elementary schools.)
It is not entirely clear what happened after the high school project was approved by NeverWoke’s legislative body, called the “Common Council.” But in the middle of construction, the state passed a resolution rescinding its commitment to pay the full 80 percent of the costs.
Several documents indicate the project’s price tag escalated drastically after demolition of the existing school took three years longer than anticipated. Also, in the rush to meet state deadlines, local officials badly miscalculated construction costs. Other documents mention a controversial monument planned for the main entrance. There is also evidence of a bitter dispute among NeverWoke’s political elite regarding the name of the new high school. Whatever the reasons, the city was forced to finance the project with minimal help from the state. Funds were thus transferred from long-overdue facility upgrades of the elementary and middle schools.
The high school was finally built. But after several decades, enrollment was less than 50 percent of capacity. Eventually, students from two of the town’s four middle schools were moved into the gargantuan structure. Roughly twenty years after that, the town’s second high school was closed, its students also moving into the new school. All the while, according to old photographs, the other schools in the district literally were falling apart. Deeply in debt because of the new high school and with a rock bottom credit rating, NeverWoke could never muster the funds to maintain these schools.
Most scholars now believe that, as the condition of the elementary schools in NeverWoke deteriorated to unacceptable levels, families were faced with several expensive choices: move out of the city, send their children to what were called private schools, or homeschool their children (often using unemployed teachers as tutors, many of whom refused to work in the dilapidated school buildings). In time, the city became the homeschooling center of the state.
But eventually, with its schools beyond repair (apart from the new high school), and with the state refusing to intervene, the once pleasant city became a ghost town.