Stamford Overwhelmingly Rejects Act 46 School Merger
The final tally on Wednesday night was 173-6 against moving forward with the district under the state's Act 46.
"It's a good thing I believe because now we have more time, we have time to explore the interstate district talks with Clarksburg and at minimum try for geographic isolation," said Cynthia Lamore, chairman of School Board. "It was incredible and very, very heartening. This is the heart of the town and we want to keep it functioning and as viable as possible."
Now, she said, "We roll up the sleeves and here we go."
School officials have opened a dialogue with Clarksburg School in Massachusetts with the idea of creating an interstate district. The schools are only a few miles away from each other — compared with Halifax's 24 miles — and the two towns share similar demographics and send their children to the same Massachusetts high schools.
"What we had asked for at the meeting on May 22 was time and I hope that that is what people were voting for right now," Kimberly Roberts-Morandi, a member of the ad hoc interstate committee, said.
The state had initially set a deadline for July for towns to vote on creating unified districts, put forward as a way to consolidate costs and streamline governance. Some incentives were dangled as well as penalties, including the loss of Small School Grants. But after string of merger rejections, the Agency of Education extended the deadline to Nov. 30 and lifted the penalties for failed votes until then.
Stamford's ballot vote was held in conjunction with the two other towns, which both approved the measure by slimmer margins. The two schools can move ahead to create a K-8 Southern Valley Unified Union School District. Whitingham and Wilmington, however, easily approved votes to create the Twin Valley Unified Union District, according to the Deerfield Valley News.
School and town officials have not been convinced that merging with the schools to the north would benefit Stamford. Despite assurances that the mergers are not designed to close schools, they have feared exactly that as the inevitable outcome and high school choice to Massachusetts would end.
It makes more sense for Stamford to look south, Lamore said.
"Most [people] work in that direction, shop in that direction, the high schoolers go in that direction," she said.
Morandi-Roberts said there's a lot of work to do to make that happen, including lining up support from the state senators and representatives on both sides of the border. There's legal issues to hash out, funding issues and governance to hash out, she said.
"There's just so many questions and so much information ... we'll need to sit down now with the School Board," Morandi-Roberts said, adding the School Board had supported the volunteer committee's efforts. "People posed questions [at the May 22 meeting] we didn't have answers to so that's a good place to start fact gathering."
The committee also will look to the Rivendell Interstate School District for possible modeling. Rivendell and Hanover/Norwich are the only districts in Vermont that cross state lines, in this case with New Hampshire.
"We also need to remember Clarksburg has to wait until July 1. That's when they said could look at this," she said. "We have to be respectful of this and remember that it's a collaborative effort and it's something we want to do with them and not to them."
Lamore said the district could also be designated as geographically isolated, allowing it to remain singular. The state is expected to define those areas in September.
"The towns that did make that list in 2011 ... feel very strongly they will still make the geographical isolation," she said. "The infrastructure hasn't changed, the roads haven't changed."
Voters also cast ballots on whether to create a unified school board and three school board members to represent Stamford. The vote was made moot by the failure of the merger to pass but 93 votes were cast to approve such a board with Barbara Malinowski polling 110 votes for the one-year seat; Erika Bailey got 102 votes for the two-year seat; and Helen Fields garnering 66 votes to Lamore's 61 for the one-year seat. There were a number of blanks and a few write-ins (Bernie Sanders got a few votes).
Fields was impressed by the turnout, with some 28 percent of the town's 644 voters casting ballots.
"There's a desire for people to have a stronger community and losing our school goes against that will, and all the people I think in the town are starting to say not only is our school important to us its a part of our community and the heart of our community," she said. "I think there's more of an awareness of that."
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