WESTMINSTER -- Roughly half of all seventh- and eighth-grade students living in Westminster are tuitioned into Bellows Falls Middle School. But a plan being considered by the Westminster School Board would increase that number to 100 percent.
Members of the Westminster board attended a meeting of the Rockingham School Board on Monday poised with questions about the newly renovated facility in Bellows Falls and to gauge the interest of their neighboring town.
Rockingham School Board Chairman James "Jiggs" McAuliffe told the Reformer that Westminster has no school for children in the seventh and eighth grades (Westminster Center School goes up to only the sixth grade) and roughly half the students in that age bracket attend BFMS, while the other half go to other public schools in the area or private institutions.
He said the plan being discussed would designate BFMS at the middle school for all seventh- and eighth-graders who do not attend private schools.
McAuliffe explained parents of seventh- and eighth-graders in Westminster do not have to pay for their children to attend schools outside the town because the costs are covered through Westminster’s taxes, unless the children are sent to a private school with tuition that is higher than the state average.
If this is the case, the parents would have to pay the difference. McAuliffe said members of his board seem open to the possibility of having all seventh- and eighth-grade students from Westminster being tuitioned into BFMS.
‘’This is something that they have to work through and (Westminster realizes) that we’re interested if it gets to that point," McAuliffe said.
Westminster School Board Chairwoman Molly Banik and Vice Chairman Dan Axtell attended Rockingham’s meeting Monday night.
Axtell told the Reformer that Rockingham board members seemed open to "looking at anything that might offer a better way to do things."
McAuliffe said they asked if BFMS has enough space to accommodate additional children and he believes the new renovation provides plenty of room.
According to McAuliffe, there are a lot of benefits to increasing the number of students at BFMS. He said this would increase diversity, create more potential for academic excellence, provide more opportunities regarding the school’s sports and music programs and decrease the cost per pupil, even though another teacher would have to be hired.
Windham Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Chris Kibbe said the potential plan seems to have a lot of support.
"There are quite a few people that think that would make a lot of sense for Westminster and Rockingham," he said.
Kibbe also mentioned the $10 million renovation has probably made BFMS more attractive to the Westminster School Board.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.