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Voters line up to cast ballots at Stamford's special town meeting on Monday.

Stamford Votes to Continue School Merger Process

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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William Levine opens the special town meeting with School Board Chairwoman Cynthia Lamore. 
STAMFORD, Vt. — Stamford voters on Monday gave the go-ahead to continue down the path toward a potential school district merger with Clarksburg, Mass. 
 
In a vote of 58-29-1, the special town meeting approved by paper ballot a continuing with Option 3 — a recommendation by the private consultants and the Interstate Merger Committee to create a unified district. 
 
Also on a motion by Nancy Bushika, town meeting approved putting funding for the merger research on the annual town meeting warrant should the grant funds run out.
 
Clarksburg's Select Board is expected to set a date on Wednesday for its special town meeting. Approval by both towns will allow the merger committee, made up of members from both towns, to hire a part-time consultant or administrator to guide the effort through the legal, educational and governance issues. 
 
Although the result was positive, the merger plan did receive some pushback from residents who questioned the decision to go with the third option proposed by Public Consulting Group. 
 
Option 1 would mean no merger but would still require Stamford to take actions to comply with Vermont's Act 46 — legislation forcing school districts statewide to reorganize and consolidate. The measure was the impetus for Stamford to begin talks with Clarksburg rather than northward to districts farther away in Vermont. 
 
Option 2 would leave the schools existing in their current grade K-8 configuration and share administrative services. This option was deemed as too costly, not as efficient in using building space and not providing educational benefits. 
 
Option 3, which would create an early education center at Stamford and a Grade 3-8 school at Clarksburg within a unified district was determined by PCG, the merger and school committees as the best choice.  
 
It would create larger classes so grades wouldn't have to be combined, more programming, better access to data, and early testing on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System instead of encountering it Mass high schools. 
 
"We want to improve their chances and improve their educational opportunities," said Cynthia Lamore, chairman of the Board of School Directors. 
 
But several residents thought there should have been a chance for voting on the other options. 
 
"Why can't we go with Readsboro?" asked one man. "Clarksburg is a sinking ship."
 
Ed Fletcher asked why the committee couldn't "re-present" that past option with Readsboro. 
 
"I came here expressly to vote as a parent and I would like to see the school remain as it is," said Nancy Lesage, who was concerned about how it would affect special education services. 
 
Robert Bence said his son had graduated eighth grade with a class of 13 from Stamford, and it was great. 
 

Members of the School Board and Merger Committee answer questions on Monday. 
"But that's expensive and to have five pople in a class is really expensive," he said. "Can we afford a class of five people and give them a quality education?"
 
Lamore noted that the Southern Valley Unified Union School District of Readsboro and Halifax was having its own controversy in sending Readsboro's Grades 7 and 8 to Halifax because the class was so small. 
 
Rejecting Option 3 was essentially a choosing Option 1, said school officials.
 
"As far as the state's concerned we have to show action, we have to show consolidation or merging with another district," Lamore said.
 
Stamford had voted not to join that school union two years ago, preferring to explore Clarksburg or gaining "isolated" status to go it's own way. School officials said there was little hope in becoming an isolated school although a few people thought the town should "push back."
 
But one man noted there has been pushback by towns and so far the courts have sided with the Board of Education. If they didn't choose Massachusetts, the state would decide. 
 
"Vermont's not going to give us choices anymore," he said. "They're going to tell us specifically to join with Halifax. ... We're not going to have an option really."
 
Kelly Holland, a member of the merger committee, said the state has already stepped in to forcefully merge school districts when towns have failed to act. 
 
"We're not trying to scare you, we're just telling you what we are seeing," she said. 
 
Residents also brought up concerns over the condition of Clarksburg School, how the funding would work and how much control they would continue to have over the school building.
 
A small contingent continued after the vote to push for more research into becoming a town district with "isolated" status. Holland said she felt uncomfortable in doing a two-pronged approach because it would seem to undermine the town's commitment to an interstate merger in the eyes of Vermont. There was also, she noted, no money for that effort.
 
Lamore suggested they come to the School Board meeting on Tuesday to discuss creating a subcommittee to do some research.

Tags: act 46,   interstate ,   merger,   special town meeting,   stamford school,   

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SVMC Creates Virtual Waiting Room to Encourage Distancing

BENNINGTON, Vt. — Beginning June 1, many people who need in-person appointments at Southwestern Vermont Health Care's hospital and clinics will no longer need to use traditional waiting rooms. A virtual system created by the hospital allows patients to call 802-447-5000 when they arrive in the parking lot and receive a text message when their provider is ready to see them.

SVMC's outpatient and inpatient surgeries and diagnostic services, like those for imaging and laboratory work, have resumed with enhanced safety protocols per the directive of Gov. Phil Scott. The health system's emergency department, ExpressCare, emergency surgical services, and most of its primary and specialty practices remained open during the pandemic.

"SVHC has provided safe, high-quality care throughout the pandemic," said Dr. Thomas A. Dee, SVHC's president and CEO. "Innovation has been an important part of providing care during these extraordinary times and this new program decreases the number of people in our waiting rooms and allows them to stay the recommended 6 feet apart or more."

In order to use the virtual waiting room, patients must be able to wait in their vehicle and have a charged cell phone with them. They will receive the virtual waiting room telephone number during their appointment-reminder telephone call. Signs outside the building and at the respiratory check-in stations inside the main hospital and medical office building entrances will also include the number to call.

Patients simply call the number when they arrive in the parking lot and wait in their cars. When the provider is ready to see them, they will receive a text message alert to indicate that they should come in.

"We love that we can use the same technology that most people carry with them to help people stay socially distanced," said registered nurse Gail Balch, who directs information technology at SVMC. "It's through innovations like this one that we are able to resume services safely and ensure patients receive the care they need."

Hospital and clinic staff anticipate that the new program will allow greater distance between people who must use traditional waiting rooms, including those who walked or took public transportation to their appointment and those who do not have a cell phone.

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