Jamaica to vote again on Leland & Gray union exit


JAMAICA >> Voters will have another swing at weighing in on leaving the Leland & Gray school union.

Town Clerk Pam Tweedy said 34 signatures or 5 percent of the voter checklist was needed to signal a re-vote on the matter. On Aug. 2, the town received a petition with 44 signatures.

"I believe it was because of low turnout and how close the vote was," Tweedy said of the July 12 vote, which saw 78 residents supporting a departure from the Leland & Gray union and 75 wanting to remain.

The re-vote will take place on Sept. 13 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. An informational meeting is scheduled for Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. at Jamaica Town Hall. The four other union member districts will need to vote later on if Jamaica approves the article. Needed will be positive votes from Brookline, Newfane, Townshend and Windham.

The issue comes at a time when other members of the Windham Central Supervisory Union are discussing a potential district merger to comply with Act 46, an education law mandating school district consolidation. Members of the Leland & Gray union plus several other districts are part of the supervisory union.

The first vote wasn't a "clear indicator" for Patti Dickson, a Jamaica resident and member of the Leland & Gray School Board who started the petition.

Dickson does not want to see the article pass. She said she is not convinced that the option would create equal educational opportunities for all the students in Jamaica.

"And I don't know that it would necessarily solve any problems that people feel there are with our education that we're giving our children now," she said. "I think we have a really good school in Leland & Gray and it could be better, and it will take all the communities involved to participate in making changes. I don't feel all the students in Jamaica would necessarily really have school choice because of the distance to the other options for high school."

Dorinne Dorfman, former Leland & Gray principal, spoke to this issue in interviews with the media and in her own articles. She sees school choice as a threat to equity for students in public schools. Dickson said she agreed 100 percent with Dorfman, a big proponent of maintaining diverse populations within schools.

Transportation could be a big barrier for some students. Dickson said if most of the students who can drive to Burr and Burton Academy, an independent school in Manchester, for extracurricular activities go there instead of Leland & Gray then Leland & Gray will lose a bit of diversity.

A better tax situation was not promised either. Other towns have a cap on a tuition rate that reflects a school in the area.

"No one can really give us specific information about what this will do to our taxes," said Dickson.

She had left the petition at the Jamaica Country Market and picked it up later.

Some people did not know anything about the vote and a good portion of people didn't think the article would be approved, Dickson told the Reformer.

"So they either didn't vote themselves or they didn't get their whole family to participate because they didn't feel it would ever pass," she said. "If 300 people vote, I'll feel it's a very good turnout. Whatever way it goes, I'll be OK this time because I will feel this is truly what the town wants and we'll make it work."

Tweedy said she heard people wanted to see half the town's voters show up this time. That would mean about 350 residents.

This will mark the second re-vote on a matter in Jamaica within the year. Taking out a bond to construct a new town garage in the existing one's place was approved at annual Town Meeting in March. Then a petition prompted another affirmative vote in May.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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