Partridge: Money is not the primary motivator for Windham
I recently attended an informational meeting in Jamaica regarding the vote on July 16 to let the town of Windham out of the Leland and Gray Union Middle/High School District (LGUMHSD). In a vote on Town Meeting Day 2019, voters in the town of Windham approved this motion on a 65-2 vote with one spoiled ballot. On July 16, voters in the other four towns of Brookline, Jamaica, Newfane, and Townshend will vote "yes" to allow us to leave or "no" to force us to stay in.
When one of the presenters was asked by a Jamaica resident why Windham wanted to leave the LGUMHSD, they responded that it was because of the money - that Windham children could attend Leland and Gray for the tuition rate rather than the assessed rate, which is about $2,500 less.
Fortunately, I was allowed to respond to the question because the primary reason the School Board and, I believe, Windham voters support this is because under current law, students who choose to attend another high school, such as Green Mountain Union in Chester, have to attend Leland and Gray for 7th and 8th grades. This just doesn't make any sense academically or socially.
And while the discussion about money is important, I don't believe it is the primary motivator for Windham voters. This is evidenced by the fact that at the 2019 Windham Town Meeting, voters approved on a unanimous voice vote, a budget with a 16.26 percent increase, due mostly to new special education costs.
It should be noted that when Windham agreed to join the District in 1969, the minutes taken that day reflect "That students in the northern portion of the Windham area can attend, at the option and with the permission of the Union District School Board, a school other than Leland and Gray without being counted as members of the Leland and Gray Union High School District for tuition purposes."
It was also specified in the 1969 minutes "That membership shall be on grades 7-12 basis," which has changed now that 6th graders, with the exception of Windham, will also be attending Leland and Gray next year. Given the recent vote to allow the Windham School District to remain autonomous, allowing Windham to leave the LGUMHSD will additionally simplify the bookkeeping for the purposes of the District.
What I found interesting and, perhaps, most disturbing is that during the Jamaica informational meeting the vast majority of the conversation was about money - the value of Windham students to Leland and Gray's bottom line, what the tax rates would be if Windham's seven (8.83 equalized students) students chose to go somewhere else, etc. At no point, other than when I spoke, do I remember there being discussion about the quality of or opportunity for education for Windham students. It is unfortunate, but under this latest regime we are forced to think of students as commodities with dollar signs attached to them.
Regarding costs, I find it doubtful that if Windham is allowed to exit the District, costs will be significantly less to Windham when transportation and special education costs are added to the tuition rate. There is also a possibility that it will be cheaper for other member towns if Windham is not a member due to special education costs. The bottom line, however, is that it is very hard to predict the future and most numbers are "guesstimates" at best. What we can say with a certain level of assurance is that the majority of Windham middle/high school students will continue to attend Leland and Gray.
I encourage the voters of Brookline, Jamaica, Newfane, and Townshend to attend the information meeting at Leland and Gray on July 9 at 7 p.m. and to vote yes on July 16 at your town voting locations or by early ballot.
Thanks very much for your kind consideration.
Carolyn Partridge is chairwoman of the Windham School Board. She also serves as state representative for the Windham-3 District. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.
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