Vernon to vote on leaving Brattleboro Union High School District

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VERNON — Voters will have their say on whether to leave the Brattleboro Union High School District on Aug. 9.

"We had a meeting last night to decide what the flyer would say. We had a work session to hammer that out," Vernon School Board Chairman Mike Hebert said Wednesday. "In fact, I'm working this morning on getting it to the printer and putting it out in the mail."

The Vernon School Board will hold its first forum on July 11 at 6 p.m. at the Vernon Elementary School. The board endorses leaving the district but will discuss the topic with residents.

Maintaining school choice is the biggest reason, according to Hebert. But there's also keeping local control via a town school board, and managing staff and administration.

"Our taxpayers have paid millions of dollars to maintain the school," said Hebert.

School choice affects the town not only for students. The option has "a huge value on property values," he said.

The town's school district could become an "alternative district" within the framework of the education law Act 46, which mandates district consolidation statewide. Then the district could contract for services with the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union.

Districts within the supervisory union — such as Brattleboro, Dummerston, Putney and Guilford — were studying a merger. When Vernon dropped out of the study committee, the process stalled.

The plan was to bring the consolidation of all the Windham Southeast districts to voters this summer. If it would have been approved then, first-year tax incentives would have been available to homestead property owners within the towns. Reduced tax breaks will be available if the districts combine in the second year.

"This evening, the (Windham Southeast Supervisory Act 46) Study Committee will review a version of the report that creates a union between Dummerston, Guilford, Putney and Brattleboro," Alice Laughlin, committee chairwoman, said Wednesday.

Since none of the other districts in the supervisory union offer students school choice, Hebert said Vernon could not join into the proposed district merger and hold on to school choice.

"There are several places with school choice but they're not in our supervisory union," he said. "So the only way to stay is become an alternative district and be affiliated with a contract with the current supervisory union."

The other districts also will need to vote for Vernon to leave. Herbert anticipates that articles going to voters in those towns will be asking if they want to merge into one district and let Vernon out of the union high school district.

If all the other districts approve then Vernon will need to figure out an arrangement with the supervisory union, said Hebert. Talks would explore how the district will operate and still use Windham Southeast services.

"It's a little premature to drop that contract if you don't know what's going to happen. If we were to be out of the high school union and then they decided to not let us contract then we would be seeking some other relationship with some other entity," said Hebert. "I think here in the town of Vernon, so far, the people I've spoken to have been overwhelmingly supportive of the School Board. You have to consider: once you're in the merger, you can't get out."

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


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