By Katy Savage, Standard Staff
This article first appeared in the July 31, 2014 edition of the Vermont Standard.
After several months, a committee composed of area school board members has narrowed down the proposed outcome of a consolidation study between Pomfret, Woodstock, Barnard and Bridgewater, and it could result in the closing of some schools.
Under the option the committee is more closely examining, Bridgewater Elementary School and Barnard Academy would close, fifth and sixth grade students would go to The Pomfret School as a “pre-middle school” and all K-4 students would go to go to Woodstock Elementary School, according to John Everitt, a consolidation consultant with the Vermont School Boards Association who is working with the committee.
“While three of us grew up in our respective towns/schools all of us are aware of the emotions of our past and future that this discussion will generate,” said Woodstock School Board member David Steele in an email. “Bottom line, we are 100 percent focused on ensuring the best educational opportunity for the students of our collective communities.”
The committee’s plan is to meet with members from each of the four school boards in August to ask for their input and then meet with residents in September to share information and gather their input.
“The study is still in draft and has unanswered questions that need to be addressed, some of them legal questions,” said Windsor Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Alice Worth in an email. “When phase two of the grant is approved by the AOE, resources will be available to research some of these questions.”
The committee, composed of Worth, Everitt and five school board members from each of the four towns, met last fall to work on the study and explore cost-saving options at a time when some of the small schools have seen declining enrollment and soaring education costs. The committee had a $5,000 grant from the Agency of Education to work with Everitt and come up with 11 consolidation alternatives.
“These trends are not only stretching the budgets of each town, but… they are diminishing the ability of these towns’ schools to offer the best elementary educational experience for their children,” said the study committee in a letter to the Vermont Standard, after its meeting Tuesday night.
Other options Everitt said the committee looked at were:
• All K-6 students going to Woodstock Elementary School, closing all other schools
• Pomfret, Barnard and Bridgewater schools opening for K-3 students and 4-6 students going to Woodstock Elementary
• Pomfret and Barnard schools combining, and Bridgewater closing, with students going to Woodstock.
Around town meeting time, the school boards announced the study to residents and said they were looking at options that included the consolidation of one or more schools or the combination of some school activities. During that time, the committee said it planned to release information to the public this summer, but members have been tight-lipped when it comes to details.
Bridgewater School Board chair Greg Jenne said they’ve held off on releasing information to reduce unnecessary panic.
“We want to go to the public with all the facts,” he said.
Bridgewater residents Kim Jackson and Justin Shipman volunteered to work on a public relations campaign in October, according to Bridgewater School Board minutes.
“Such a PR campaign is about providing information to citizens in ways beyond a community meeting,” Worth said. She said the campaign could include a website and additional written information.
The committee is also asking Bridgewater Town Clerk Nancy Robinson and other town clerks to put together a list of questions that people might want to know.
Robinson said such questions could include, “Is this going to lower my taxes,” “Where are my kids going to go to school?” and, “Do I have a choice?”
The committee has looked at how many building administrators it would need and what the financial impact would be for each option, as well as the impact on staff, said Everitt.
“Fewer teachers would be needed for the same total number of kids,” Everitt said.
WCSU has applied for an additional $10,000 grant to complete the study and cover implementation costs. Voters will have a say in the final decision.
“The committee feels that the model under consideration will be an improvement on the current model in that students will be better served,” the committee wrote.