By Nancy Cornell
In November 2016, voters in Starksboro, and in Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton and New Haven, voted to approve the consolidation of our school districts, changing from one school board governing each school, to one MAUSD board governing all 6 of our schools (5 elementary schools and Mt. Abraham Middle/High School).
The Articles of Agreement that voters in each of our five towns, and the Vermont State Board of Education, approved when they agreed to form MAUSD in 2016 include the following:
“After four (4) years of operation the new SD may close a school conveyed to the new SD by a Forming Elementary District upon affirmative votes of the New SD Board of Directors and the voters, voting by Australian ballot, of the Member Town in which the school is located.” (Article 14)
“The New SD board shall support and continue the elementary education of students at the school located in the town where they reside, unless such school is closed as provided above. The Board may adopt policies to allow attendance of elementary school students at elementary schools within the New SD other than the school in the town where the student resides when such is appropriate to address unique needs of particular students.” (Article 16).
Many 5-Town residents consider these provisions to be a legally binding promise - a promise that the MAUSD Board will not close the elementary school program in a town, without the approval of that town's voters.
Despite these provisions, the Superintendent and some MAUSD board members think “repurposing” an elementary school in such a way that a town's K-6 elementary program is moved to a different town (while other educational functions are moved into the building) would not constitute school closure and would not require an affirmative vote of the town in which the school is located. Strategies that have been discussed at School Board meetings include repealing Article 16 without a voter approval, and then closing the elementary program without voter approval.
Other board members believe that the Articles mean what they clearly say, and that an affirmative vote of the majority of a town’s residents would be required in order to “repurpose” an elementary school by moving its K-6 program to another town. These board members also feel that the District needs to rebuild trust among community members who are concerned that they will not have a voice in decisions about what may happen to the children and the school building in their town as was promised during the 2016 district merger vote.
We support the Starksboro Select Board in calling on the MAUSD Board to vote yes, as soon as possible, on a resolution: affirming, actively supporting, and ensuring that no town will lose the ability to hold a vote to determine whether or not to close its elementary school. In accordance with Articles 14 and 16, “closing” includes terminating, or otherwise making unavailable to K-6 students who live in the town, the elementary school program in that town.
Whether you live in Starksboro, or in Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton or New Haven, we hope that you agree that a promise is a promise.
If you haven’t yet shared your feelings with the MAUSD School Board about this issue, please consider taking action.