The Windsor Southeast Act 46 study committee eliminated some merger options on Tuesday night and talked about new ones, like creating an Upper Valley magnet school with Hartford and maybe Springfield.
The latter idea “would be quite amazing,” Windsor Schools chair Amy McMullen said. She anticipated challenges convincing community members of such a large change.
The magnet school was one new idea mentioned by Act 46 Consultant Peter Clarke who the board worked with on Tuesday to study merger options. Clarke, who lives in Quechee, has led studies in neighboring districts, like Windsor Central Supervisory Union.
The magnet school was one of a few new ideas mentioned Tuesday night.
Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union has grappled with merger decisions for the past year — at one point there was question if the Act 46 study committee would continue. The committee is sticking together, appearing more optimistic for now.
The committee eliminated four merger options from a list of six on Tuesday. Any combination of two schools pairing up was taken away from the list of options. The option to create an alternative structure where Hartland, West Windsor and Weathersfield merge and Windsor as a separate district, was also shot down when the four West Windsor school board members voted against it at the meeting because it “would have whittled the option of school choice,” West Windsor school board chair Elizabeth Burrows said.
Act 46 requires school boards to create sustainable governance structures by 2019. In many cases, that requires schools to merge and have the same operating structure — a challenge for Windsor Southeast. The four boards have different operating structures and none of them seem willing to compromise school choice. Windsor Schools is a pre-K-12 district that doesn’t offer school choice, West Windsor has school choice for middle school and high school students and Hartland and Weathersfield, K-8 schools, offer school choice for high school students.
The committee voted to further explore a unified district option, where Windsor would be a regional high school, eliminating school choice for all. Some board members also wanted to just stay they way they were.
If the board doesn’t merge by 2019, the state can take over.
Under current law, the state can’t take away choice, close a school or change a school’s operating structure, Superintendent David Baker said.
“So there’s really no consequence,” said West Windsor school board member David Hill.
Hill suggested that Windsor Southeast do nothing because of everyone’s unwillingness to compromise.
“It might not be the best thing for the children,” Hill said to Clarke, adding: “It’s only because we’re at a stalemate and we don’t seem to be able to move forward.”
There was a group of about 25 audience members at the meeting. Some expressed support of the study committee continuing options.
“I’d like to send something (to the state) that doesn’t just say, ‘We want to keep it as it is.’ We want to keep school choice, but we want to keep it smarter,” said Kara Hall of Hartland.
Windsor resident Sherrie Greeley expressed support of the magnet school.
“I think if you build it, they will come,” she said.
Clarke will help the committee going forward. He suggested exploring the option of Hartland and Weathersfield becoming one district since they have a similar K-8 operating structure.
This article first appeared in the September 15, 2016 edition of the Vermont Standard.