When last I posted about the ongoing school merger debate, it was nearly a year ago, but of course the debate, and the merger process, has continued.
To sum up: Last November in a non-binding referendum, both Pawlet and Rupert voted in favor of keeping designated schools in New York for grades 7-12. As a result, Wells, the third town of the proposed merger whose representatives favored school choice, went elsewhere to find merger buddies. Pawlet and Rupert then formed a new merger committee, and two weeks ago some members of that new committee made a merger proposal to the Vermont Board of Education, (you can watch the video below)
, our proposal comes up at 4:09) The state turned this proposal down, largely on the basis that they found the new proposal did not provide “equity,” a founding principle of Act 46, which essentially means that all children are to be given reasonable access to equivalent school programs.
Which brings us to last night’s meeting. It was standing room only in the Mettawee Community School library as the merger committee met and exchanged views on what had happened at the state and debated how to move forward. So what happened?
Here is the upshot: the committee voted four to three in favor of resubmitting the merger proposal with changes that remove designation from the plan.
In the absence of designated schools, the new merger of Pawlet and Rupert that is being proposed would by default entail school choice, with every student able to use up to the Vermont union state average annual tuition (currently $15,480).
A new merged school board could attempt to return to designation at some later date, but any attempt to designate the Granville and Salem schools in New York would be contingent on two things: an approval from town voters, and the state of Vermont changing the existing law.
If you’ve got all that then here’s what happens next: (Note- Update!! Some dates changed from the original posting )
October 18th- members of the merger committee will present this new plan to the Vermont Board of Education
November 14th- tentative date, public forum/informational meeting, time & location TBA. Also an informational mailing is planned.
November 21st- if the state approves the new merger proposal, this is the tentative date for Pawlet and Rupert residents to vote on the proposed merger.
That’s really what you need to know. A video of the merger meeting was made last night, so if someone sends me the link I will post it here.
A few snapshots from the evening:
“The democratic process was completely perverted… I’m coming out of this quite sad.”
—John Malcolm, committee member, (Referring to the state rejection of the previous plan)
“I just want folks to understand that if we don’t have a successful merger, we all lose.”
—Scott McChesney, committee member, (Pointing out that, if either town were to vote the new proposed merger down, both towns would lose associated tax incentives, and could end up designated to a Vermont school such as Poultney, not have the ability to attend Granville or Salem, and still have to pay the Vermont state average.)
“I support getting the merger done. If there’s still interest in designation, the new board could do it… (but) you’d have to deal with 827 (the existing law) too.”
—Jackie Wilson, BRSU Superintendant
“I don’t think the voters support it… (but) I’m for democracy. People are free to lobby… they have a right to do it.”
—Bill Meyer, committee member
“I would vote for a merger, and let the townspeople decide… talking about democracy, then we’re being democratic.”
—Gene Ceglowski, committee member
“We just have to move forward… our charge is to make sure people understand the options.”
—Diane Mach, committee member
“(Under the new merger proposal) we can have Granville and Salem and all these schools.”
—Michael Krauss, resident
“(This merger) could be possibly the only way you get to choose Granville.”
—Heather Lund, resident
“I feel strongly that we need to tone down the rhetoric… This town is going to remain divided if people don’t begin to talk civilly to each other.”
Arlene Bentley, resident
“It is not political, it is constitutional… Everyone in the state gets the state average tuition except our two towns.“
—Jim Cole, resident
“I think perhaps the hostility would come down if we had more facts.”
—Christina Cosgrove, resident
“It would be so helpful to know the net tax impact (of the proposed merger).”
—David Nichols, resident
“It’s got to be put out to the public as simple as possible.”
—Regina Mason, resident. (on the confusing nature of past informational materials)