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We urge NO withdrawal from WSESD

To the editor: We, the undersigned community members of Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford, and Putney, are writing to encourage voters to vote NO on the articles proposing town withdrawals from the Windham Southeast School District in the upcoming town elections. All four towns have absentee and/or early voting options available now.

The questions being put before voters through these articles are ill-timed, driven by an unclear sense of urgency, lacking legal clarity, and linked to concerning tax and school structure implications for all four towns. The two ballot questions ask voters about withdrawing their respective towns from the newly-formed WSESD and giving permission to other towns to withdraw based on their own town vote.

Regardless of our feelings about the merger process, it is the responsible choice for our towns and our children to vote NO on these articles. In fact, given that the new district has only existed for a year and a half — 11 months of which has been spent dealing with the educational crisis brought on by the pandemic — it is impossible to clearly evaluate any potential benefits or detrimental impacts from the merger during “normal” operating times. Certainly, however, people have recognized that the district merger facilitated some increased coordination between the schools during the COVID crisis that would not have been previously possible or easy. However, even these positive impacts do not provide a full reflection of new district operations. This lack of evaluation time for the new district is one reason voting now is ill-timed.

The timing of this vote is also concerning because we are still in the midst of the pandemic. Our administrators, teachers, and school staff have shown incredible dedication, managed unprecedented workloads, and coped with the intense stress and enormous responsibility of serving our community’s children while understanding — and undertaking — risks to their own health. To ask them, the people who educate our community’s children, to disrupt their critical focus — on managing COVID safety and keeping schools open and safe — with the issue of potentially dissolving the district at this time is incredibly irresponsible and unfair. If the vote passes, it will ask teachers to tolerate more uncertainty and stress in the coming year, while administrators and boards shift their focus away from our children’s safety and education to the business of forming new districts. If a key component towards our goal of providing high-quality education is to attract and retain the most talented administrators and teachers that we can, pushing this vote forward and possibly passing it during the challenging time of a pandemic would be in direct conflict with that goal.

The accelerated timing of this vote was pushed forward under the premise that the legislature would be closing a loophole that allows this dissolution vote to happen. No specific legislation is pending at this time. Local delegation members know of no legislation on the horizon; in fact, our legislative delegation seems to share the focus of our teachers and administrators — responding to the pandemic crisis — so that school redistricting legislation is far from their top priority. We cannot speak to how school board and community members determined there was legislation on the horizon that necessitates a vote now; however, we cannot find any evidence to reinforce this sense of urgency which is driving this ill-considered timeline.

The timeline of this vote has serious ramifications, especially around voter awareness. There has been little communication to voters about the implications of this vote, in part because the lack of planning makes it impossible to understand future impacts. There has been no public forum that allows time to debate the pros and cons of this vote. This vote could have dramatic financial, legal, and school structure outcomes, most of which are unclear at this time and are not well understood by anyone, especially the voting public.

One ramification of this vote that does have the greatest clarity is this: if towns choose to withdraw, every town in the current district can expect property tax increases that range from minor to exorbitant. Dummerston and Putney would see the highest immediate increases, with an immediate projected increase for Dummerston potentially upwards of 15 percent by available estimates.

If any of the outlying towns withdraw from the district, that town will have to pay tuition for students to attend BAMS or BUHS or any other post-elementary school. This would likely be an increase in taxpayer cost for that town. If Brattleboro withdraws, all schools in Brattleboro would become town schools and all students outside the town of Brattleboro would have to pay tuition. This would most likely result in increased tax rates for all four towns. Beyond the tax impact, it would also mean that only Brattleboro would have representation on the school board and only Brattleboro Town Representatives would vote to approve the school budgets.

The long-term impacts related to these changes to the middle and high school structure could be devastating for Brattleboro. The potential scenarios have the potential to reduce the BAMS and BUHS student populations and, in turn, the tax revenue from outlying towns for their infrastructure. This would translate to an increase in Brattleboro property taxes and could impact the middle school and high school’s strength and financial solvency. In the short term, it would introduce a degree of volatility in enrollment numbers that would make planning and programming more difficult and that could impact the educational experience for all students.

Putting this decision before voters in the midst of a pandemic and without the exploration that these very serious issues warrant is ill-timed at best and could have devastating impacts on our schools and community. We urge all voters to vote NO on the relevant articles, which will allow our schools to focus on the pandemic crisis that is still underway and give time for these issues to be explored in a more responsible way.

Signatures:

Ann Dixon, Guilford

Maggie Foley, Guilford

Amit Sharma, Guilford

Thayer Tomlinson, Guilford

Sarah Rosow, Guilford

Keri Newton, Dummerston

Joseph Newton, Dummerston

Tammy McNamara, Dummerston

Peter Welch, Guilford

Michael Roberts, Guilford

Emma Hallowell, Guilford

Tosha Tillman, Guilford

Matt Dove, Guilford

Anne Rider, Guilford

Jared Clark, Dummerston

Jen O’Donnell, Dummerston

Mike Euphrat, Dummerston

Jennifer Course, Brattleboro

Timothy Zinn, Brattleboro

Robin Morgan, Brattleboro

Emily Hartz, Guilford

Kitsie LaRock, Guilford

Robin Nilson, Guilford

Helen O’Donnell, Dummerston

Noah Hoskins-Forsythe, Dummerston

Beth Bristol, Guilford

Jared Bristol, Guilford

Gavy Kessler, Dummerston

Corey Joyal, Guilford

Alix Joyal, Guilford

Ellen Rago, Dummerston

Megan Becker, Guilford

Scott Mathes, Guilford

Lauren Cotton, Guilford

Gabrieal Maulucci, Guilford

Britni Christiansen, Guilford

Brandie Starr, Brattleboro

Jessica Nelson, Dummerston

Lisa Ford, Guilford

Molly Stoner, Dummerston

Sandra Cortes, Guilford

Laura Casey, Putney

Nathanael Matthiesen, Guilford

Rob Hinrichs, Guilford

Michael Becker, Guilford

Erin Tkaczyk, Guilford

Michael Tkaczyk III, Guilford

Laura Goldblatt, Brattleboro

Conor Floyd, Brattleboro

Jonathan Gitelson, Brattleboro

Jane Geidel, Brattleboro

Laura Stamas, Brattleboro

Grady Smith, Brattleboro

Amy Ripley, Brattleboro

Emily Marker, Dummerston

Carol Anne Urban, Guilford

Ellen Nam, Dummerston

Karen Duggan, Brattleboro

Anna Hecker, Brattleboro

Tara Davis, Brattleboro

Allison Baum, Putney

William Gallagher, Dummerston

Dianne Clouet, Brattleboro

Cortney Manix, Dummerston

Dustin Manix, Dummerston

Cory Frehsee, Brattleboro

Alexis Moshovetis, Guilford

Amir Flesher, Brattleboro

Claudia Peknik, Dummerston

Kelsey Burns, Guilford

Elizabeth Wohl, Brattleboro

Georgia Morgan, Brattleboro

Bethany I. Ranquist, Brattleboro

Julianne Giordano, Dummerston

Billie Slade, Dummerston

Catherine Martin, Dummerston

Jennifer Rainville, Dummerston

Sam Ogenenoff, Dummerston

Verandah Porche, Guilford

Jacob Leach, Guilford

Jenny Conathan, Guilford

Dana Berry, Guilford

Tom Tucker, Guilford

Beverly Baldwin Wright, Dummerston

Cameron Baldwin Wright, Dummerston

Sara Mockler, Brattleboro

Eileen Parks, Brattleboro

Hannah Lindner-Finlay, Brattleboro

Rebecca Speisman, Brattleboro

Michael Lonergan, Brattleboro

Anna May Seaver, Brattleboro

Rebecca Baiser, Brattleboro

Kelly Pacheck, Brattleboro

Mel Baiser, Brattleboro

Patty Walior, Dummerston

Abigail Mnookin, Brattleboro

Wendy Windle, Brattleboro

Kathy Smith, Brattleboro

Matt Neikirk, Brattleboro

Liz Bassett, Brattleboro

Tessa Carpenter, Brattleboro

Maureen Hart, Brattleboro

Edna Ortiz, Brattleboro

Sharon Carlton Newton, Brattleboro

HB Lozito, Brattleboro

Mel Motel, Brattleboro

Diana Whitney, Brattleboro

Gilbert Green, Dummerston

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