Friday October 5, 2012

TOWNSHEND -- The possibility of a regional school district will continue to be discussed after area school board members met Wednesday and decided to proceed with the study.

The group -- known as a Regional Education District Study Committee, or RED, -- had been researching the possibility of forming one school district for the five towns of Brookline, Jamaica, Newfane, Townshend and Windham.

In July, Windham’s School Board members announced they were pulling out of the study because of the possibility of losing their school.

Board member Antje Ruppert said the town’s residents aren’t interested in the formation of regional education district and that it didn’t make sense to continue to be part of the study.

At the meeting on Oct. 3, however, there were a few people who disagreed with Ruppert and the rest of the board.

Nancy Dyke, of Windham, said she was outraged by the board’s decision to withdraw from the study and to continue to turn a blind eye to the potential opportunities.

"The board is biased and they took the right of Windham voters away when they pulled out," Dyke said. "They want so badly to save their small school that they’re not even considering this as an option."

Similarly, Windham residents Ernest Friedli and his wife Sheila agreed, saying the board members hadn’t done their job to come to the town’s voters with an "unbiased report."

With increasing school budgets being shouldered by the taxpayers, Ernest said it was irresponsible of the board to decline participation in the study.

"At least participate in it so we can get the information," he said. "For our town not to be part of this any more is tunnel vision."

When asked if the board members were apt to change their minds based on the concerns of several residents, Ruppert said it wasn’t likely.

"If people want to bring this before the voters they can petition the board," she said.

Ruppert added that prior to the July decision, the board held several open meetings and invited the public to attend and have their voices heard and no one showed up.

As the Oct. 3 meeting continued, the remainder of the RED group voted to continue pursuing the study and that if there was a new district to be formed, it would be a RED and not a "modified unified union school district."

In that scenario if any of the four remaining towns votes against it, the district dissolves.

"However this vote comes down is irrelevant because the Windham Board took our right to vote on it away," Dyke said.

Dyke went on to say that the Windham School Board’s recent meeting in September didn’t provide any of the district’s potential benefits and instead focused on the negatives.

"People who agree with the (Windham School) Board didn’t have to understand anything to be in favor of leaving this (RED) board."

Much of the discussion Wednesday night revolved around the possible construction of a new elementary school that would serve the towns of Jamaica and Townshend.

Jamaica School Board member Drew Hazelton said with enrollment shrinking, if there wasn’t a new school built the RED wouldn’t make sense for his town. The rest of the board agreed.

The next steps of the process will be discussed at next month’s meeting.

Josh Stilts can be reached at jstilts@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.