Windham hires lawyer to explore Act 46 options

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WINDHAM — The tiny town of Windham, which operates the smallest elementary school in the state, has hired a lawyer to research its options for fighting Act 46 and the state Board of Education.

Carolyn Partridge, chairwoman of the Windham School Board, said the board voted Monday night to appropriate $1,500 to hire Mark Oettinger of Burlington for advice for the ongoing dispute.

In June, the state Board of Education released a plan that called for Windham to merge with the neighboring towns of Jamaica, Townshend, Newfane and Brookline into the West River Modified Unified Union School District.

Partridge, who is also a Democratic state representative for Windham-3, which includes the towns of Windham, Grafton and Rockingham, said Oettinger is the former longtime attorney for the Agency of Education and is very knowledgeable about state education financing law.

Windham, which is Pre-K through Grade 6, has 16 students. Its upper grade students go to the Leland and Gray Union Middle and High School in Townshend, although children living in the northern half of town can attend the Green Mountain Union High School in Chester, which is closer, Partridge said.

Partridge said that opposition against a forced school merger remained strong, with the belief that Windham would lose any control over its school and its students. Under the proposal, the town would only have one seat on an 11-member school board, and could easily be outvoted when it came to decisions on how to configure student populations.

Partridge said one "suburban model" had all the early grades in the entire district going to the Jamaica Elementary School, the middle classes going to NewBrook in Newfane, and the middle and high school students attending Leland and Gray in Townshend.

Partridge, who also drives the school's bus, said transporting the town's youngest children over the roads in the winter made no sense, and she said the merger would not improve the community's stake in the school and its governance. The main road from the hill country of Windham down to Townshend, she said, was recently designated by the state to be a "high risk rural road."

Now, she said, parents can easily attend the Windham School Board meeting at 4 p.m. at the school. Under the merger, any Windham parents would have to go to Townshend to Leland and Gray for a 7 p.m. meeting.

She said while the town voted against merger at town meeting in March 2017, the vote was close, with only an eight-vote margin. But since that time, the school board has learned many people who voted for the school merger thought it would give them school choice, and that they could send their children to the Flood Brook School in Londonderry. That is not an option, she said.

"There was a misunderstanding over what was available," she said.

"Act 46 and the forced merger is a bad idea," said Partridge, who said Windham kept its per pupil costs under control, and some recent years has had lower per pupil costs than neighboring towns.

Statewide, about 90 school districts have resisted merging under Act 46, and the state board of education is expected to release its final plan soon, even before its November 2018 deadline.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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