BRATTLEBORO — Individual school boards could be coming back to Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford and Putney.
At a meeting held remotely Tuesday, the Windham Southeast School District board voted 7-1 to include on the annual March warning an article about dissolving the board and returning to local board governance in each of the four towns. Board member Shaun Murphy voted against the move and Michelle Luetjen Green abstained.
The board also voted that if the power to warn the articles doesn’t fall under its providence, it will immediately request each town’s select board include articles about dissolution on warnings in March votes. Murphy abstained.
Board member Thomas Nolan said votes from the towns were disregarded by the state earlier when districts were forced to merge in 2019.
“We owe it to the voters to at least give them one more shot at democracy,” he said.
Board Chairman David Schoales said the idea to hold a vote came from the public, not the board. A consolidated district of Halifax and Readsboro paved the way after being the first in the state to split from a merger, with Westminster voting to follow suit this week.
Schoales said the State Board of Education can’t currently stop merger divorces but it’s asking for legislation to change that, so there’s concern about not being able to get out of the structure later. He noted residents also could bring forward petitions with signatures from 5 percent of the voter checklist in a town to prompt a vote, which happened in both of the preceding local cases.
“So this isn’t the only way,” he said about having the board warn an article. “This is just a relatively easy way, compared to getting a bunch of signatures.”
Majorities in the towns voted against a merger in 2017. But the State Board of Education required it as part of Act 46, a controversial education law aimed at improving student equities and finding efficiencies.
Green said she wanted more information rather than making a decision based on “old feelings.” Board member Kelly Young looked at the vote as a way to review whether the current structure is sufficient.
“I think it’s the heart that’s missing,” Jody Normandeau of Dummerston said. “I think the communities need to have a say about what happens at their schools.”
Normandeau described the merged district’s board meetings being too long and “too much to handle.” Kristina Naylor, former board chairwoman, said serving on the board was “10 times more work and 20 percent as fun” as being on Dummerston’s elementary school board.
The board also voted 6-1 to warn an article for the annual ballot to establish an independent finance committee. Brattleboro’s Representative Town Meeting Finance Committee, which has previously weighed in via a report on the budget, suggested the district form its own committee.
Nolan voted against the motion, not seeing the committee as a necessity. Board members Liz Adams and Murphy abstained.