JAMAICA — By a margin of only three votes, residents voted in favor of withdrawing from the Leland and Gray Union Middle/High School District No. 34.
Seventy-eight residents voted in favor, while 75 voted in opposition on July 12. Voters cast their ballots at the Jamaica Town Office for the matter that was made in response to Act 46, the education law mandating district consolidation statewide.
Jamaica Village School Board Chairwoman Stephanie Amyot told the Reformer the vote is what she expected.
"The vote points to what we do as a board, the town has very much two minds on the issue," said Amyot. "The thing that is very important for people to know is that people on both sides are very passionate and have legitimate concerns and great arguments."
While Jamaica voters have let themselves be heard, whether the town leaves the Leland and Gray District will be unknown until voting takes place for the towns of Windham, Townshend, Newfane and Brookline. However there is no scheduled vote date at this time, as a residents have 30 days to call for a "reconsideration" vote. But if no reconsideration occurs by August 12, a vote on the matter will be held by all necessary towns 90 days after July 12. Finally, the state would have to approve the decision.
WCSU Superintendent William Anton said he understood the importance of the vote to Jamaica and said to his knowledge, this was the first time since the 1970s where something of this nature passed.
" I can't find record of when the last time a vote was put forth to a town to exit its school district like this," said Anton.
Given Jamaica's close vote, residents were split on several matters, Amyot noted some of the concerns she has heard on both sides. As for those on the pro side, Amyot said people are concerned with Leland and Gray's declining school population and feel that as a result, students may have less opportunities and that by leaving they will be able to send their children to schools with more "robust" programs.
"We have already seen a number of families moving or finding ways to send children to other schools for more opportunity," Amyot.
On the con side of the argument, Amyot said she had heard residents express concerns that the move will cost more as "school choice often ends up costing the town more." She noted there would no longer be a set tuition. Then there is the cost of transportation if students begin attending schools such as Burr and Burton; the town would pick up the costs for sending students if parents can not find another means of transportation, which she says is often done in towns with school choice. She says these issues may bring about burdens for low-income families.
"Even in the long run if we're not able to leave the Leland and Gray Union, we hope to use this information to improve the school as much as possible," said Amyot.
Anton further noted that this is a "unique" time for this matter to occur as there are several "fresh" perspectives brought to the table. Anton was recently elected to his position as superintendent and there is also the new principal of Leland and Gray, Robert Thibault; Director of Curriculum, Jen McKusick and the Business Manager, Laurie Garland. Regardless of being the new kid on the block, Anton is confident to tackle this issue head on.
"My role is to get schools boards prepared to understand the context, what it means to their community and Leland and Gray if this change were to occur," said Anton.
Anton said he looking forward to hearing from communities of what residents are looking for in opportunities at schools like Leland and Gray. He further noted that he feels Amyot and the rest of the Jamaica school board have handled the conversation, research and outreach with precision and professionalism and have "created an environment for a respectful conversation to occur."
Amyot also mentioned that the Jamaica School Board recently decided that if they are able to get school choice, it will pursue a study committee with Marlboro, Dover and Wardboro. Previously the board voted to join a study committee looking at the formation of a pre-k through 12th grade district with member districts of the Leland and Gray Union. Amyot said of the four options, the study recommended this option as it would keep Jamaica in the same supervisory union, would account for the least amount of change around staffing and the Jamaica Elementary school would remain open.
Newfane, Townshend, Brookline, Jamaica and Windham currently send their kids to Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School, and are part of the WCSU.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275