RED study committee abandons vote


TOWNSHEND -- After two and a half years, the Regional Education District Study Committee will not be submitting articles to the Vermont State Education Board and it will not hold informational sessions in the five towns it would have affected -- Brookline, Newfane, Townshend, Jamaica and Windham.

"Honestly, we really did have ample discussion around presenting the articles to the communities," said committee chairwoman Emily Long. "We also felt we had a bit of an obligation to fulfill to follow through on the proposal, but we really felt it was questionable whether we'd get support."

On May 29, the committee discussed the potential impact of a failed vote. But the biggest concern, Long says, was based on not wanting to stir bad feelings between the committee and the supervisory union and school boards.

Windham had opted out of the process early on. With education bills passing just before the committee set out, the Legislature would have allowed the other four towns to form a new district but it would have required Windham to vote on it.

"If the vote had gone forward, Windham could have voted yes or no and it wouldn't have necessarily stopped if all other towns voted yes," said Long. "We would have been operating a K-12 district under one board and we would have had a very reluctant partner in Windham."

According to Windham School Board Chairwoman Carolyn Partridge, the committee had come to the conclusion that forming the district was either "going to increase educational opportunities for students or save money and the only reason they kept going was because of the concept of a unified school for Townshend and Jamaica."

In both those schools, she said, there were infrastructure needs and the Windham board felt its school was in good shape and geographically isolated. Board members were concerned that parent involvement would decrease if students were housed out of Windham.

"We couldn't really see the need to spend a lot of money on a new or unified school," added Partridge. "Besides the fact, if we go ahead with something like that, it would cost even more money. You'd have to fund your own school while moving forward with plans for another one as well as construction costs."

She believed that the vote likely would have failed in most of the towns if the committee had moved forward.

Long told the Reformer that committee members wanted to gather more feedback but also felt that what they had already done would have a great deal of value that would influence further discussions.

Ending its meeting with a motion to encourage local school boards to move forward in joint meetings, the committee hopes to inspire local dialogue. The motion did not say which schools should discuss collabation but board members from Jamaica and Townshend did express interest in continuing such talks.

Although a school governance bill was not passed during the last legislative session, Long said it will be important for boards to make educational programs more sustainable for taxpayers.

"We know that that's a challenge," she added, advocating for collaboration across town lines. "Personally, I believe the biggest threat to small schools is to do nothing."

The committee did not suggest the closing of any schools but the fear of closing small schools was often a result of the statewide conversation regarding a governance bill.

According to Windham Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Steven John, the state funded the RED study. In order to receive the remainder of the money, a conclusion will need to be written up. A consultant involved with the committee will assist with that report, which will be submitted to the state board, Agency of Education and the towns as the final step in the process.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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