New merger plan would close Black River High within two years

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Images downloaded from Black River High School Middle School Facebook page

A committee of the Ludlow and Mount Holly school districts decided Tuesday night to merge into one district and operate two elementary schools and – temporarily – the Black River middle/high school until it can be closed. After that, students from the two towns will be able to attend the public or private school of their choice with tuition paid by the district.

If approved by the State Board of Education and the voters of both towns, the new Ludlow-Mount Holly Unified Union School District  — or LMHUUSD — would become operative on July 1, 2018, the same day as the new Green Mountain Unified School District, and would be eligible for incentives offered by the state.

According to Two Rivers Superintendent Meg Powden, the new district would need time to transition from operating a middle and high school to providing tuition. “We need time to think about it and to do well,” said Powden noting that doing it in 2018 would be “too fast.” Powden said that the Articles of Agreement that govern how the merger takes place would designate whether the high school would be closed in June 2019 or in June 2020.

“The driving force was to realize the merger incentives offered by the state,” said Powden, noting that the vote would come just before the deadline for such incentives.

Powden said that the Looking Forward Steering Committee had met over the summer and identified five governance options, which were turned over to consultant Dan French for analysis. The committee presented this option as their choice  two of the five options to the boards of Black River High and Mt. Holly and Ludlow Elementary schools on Sept. 27 and the study committee, which met Tuesday night, was designated.

The effort has a tight schedule. In the next few days, French will assemble the study committee’s report – including the Articles of Agreement. The report would then be approved by the boards of education for the towns and sent to the Agency of Education for review. Next, the State Board of Education would have to pass on the plan at its Oct. 18 meeting, then a vote for the two towns would be warned for Tuesday, Nov. 28. Both towns would have to vote in favor of the merger for it to pass.

Asked if closing the high school – now or within two years – would likely bring about the same result as the vote that defeated a merger with Mill River in May of 2017, Powden said she thought this plan would be more palatable.

“Remember, in the last vote, people were asked if they wanted to send their students to Mill River,” said Powden. “That was OK with Mount Holly, but not for the voters of Ludlow. I think they wanted more choice.”

While it was not part of the equation for the supervisory union, the delay in closing Black River would give proponents of opening a private school in Ludlow time to plan and fund raise.

Powden said that information meetings will be held before the vote in both communities.

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