Green Mountain RED merger moves forward; Ludlow, Mt. Holly reject plan

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Bob Herbst tells the RED sub-committee Ludlow and Mount Holly won’t join in the new district. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

On Monday night, school merger study committee representatives from Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester who are working to form a Regional Education District heard from Mount Holly and Ludlow reps that those towns will not participate in the RED – even as a fallback position in their Act 46 deliberations.

The RED group then moved forward on articles of agreement on a tight schedule that would put the plan before the voters of the four towns in April.

Ludlow representative Bob Herbst came to the meeting to give the committee the news. “Mount Holly and Ludlow don’t care to be part of this,” said Herbst noting that they would be continuing to explore other options.

RED sub-committee member Marilyn Mahusky tells Herbst that she thinks his panel has misunderstood the RED group’s intentions.

Marilyn Mahusky, a RED sub-committee representative from Chester, told Herbst that after watching the video of the previous Thursdays meeting, she thought there was a misperception of what this sub-committee was doing and that it might be premature to close the door.

Mahusky referred back to earlier meetings in which the question of closing Black River High School was brought up and rejected. She then said that it has only been in the last month that closing the school had been on the table and there had not been time to talk about the educational opportunities that would be possible by joining the schools.

Several of those on the RED sub-committee had said that it was a decision that Ludlow and Mount Holly had to deal with. Cavendish representative Doug McBride noted that he said it would be “poisonous” for a committee to close another town’s school and hoped that Ludlow could “fix the problem” and continue to have a school in its community.

Andover representative Joe Fromberger tells the meeting that closing BRHS is Ludlow’s decision.

Joe Fromberger of Andover said that he did not want to be associated with closing another town’s school and that the articles should have generic language and conditions welcoming other districts – including Ludlow/Mount Holly – to join in the future.

The RED sub-committee then spent the majority of the meeting working on the articles of agreement that would govern the merger. Members discussed the conditions under which Baltimore – which has school choice – could have its current choice students grandfathered into through graduation. They also talked about the composition of the single board that would govern the new unified district. Using a proportional representation method, the sub-committee agreed that Andover and Baltimore would each have one seat, Cavendish would have three and Chester would have six for a total of 11.

The sub-committee looked at schedules for property and long term debt that the new district would take on and language for warning the vote on the merger. It was decided at the Jan. 31 meeting that the new entity would be called the Green Mountain Unified School District.

Consultant Steve Dale takes the panel through the articles of agreement.

Consultant Steve Dale said that he would incorporate all of the additions, deletions and changes to the report and circulate it to the committee and the school boards of the individual districts for review and comments in preparation for finalizing it. At the Feb. 9 meeting in Mount Holly, members of that sub-committee had suggested adding a dissenting opinion — a minority report, saying that the RED did not meet the requirements of Act 46. Dale said that they would be free to dissent and there was nothing stopping them from submitting it.

Dale also addressed a question that has been hanging over the process. State law requires a minimum of four districts to merge to constitute a RED. That would mean that it is necessary for Baltimore to join with Andover, Cavendish and Chester to close the deal. But the three towns have argued that they already have five “town” districts.

These districts have their own boards and budgets and are otherwise standalone entities, bringing the total of school districts in the merger to six if Baltimore decides to join.

The Agency of Education has taken a dim view of this idea in the past, but after a recent meeting there seemed to be reason for hope. According to Dale, he felt the AOE was hedging, hoping that Baltimore and Ludlow would join the RED.

“But they saw you were sincere about making progress,”said Dale of the AOE.

“I would say they (the AOE) are a long way down the path to agreeing and don’t have good reasons to say no,” said sub-committee chair Alison Deslauriers.

Venissa White tells the RED panel she doesn’t think members listened to the students who proposed an alternative merger plan.

According to Superintendent Meg Powden, AOE will offer a definitive answer later this week.

During public comment, TRSU After School Programs coordinator Venissa White told the sub-committee that she was dismayed that a student generated option that was presented by two of her daughters among others from Green Mountain Union High School was not seriously considered.

The plan called for keeping the Black River High School building open as an international business and humanities academy with 50 new courses. The students’ plan showed $750,000 in savings, which would have gone some way to keeping the tax rate after the merger in check. At the Feb. 9 meeting in Mount Holly, however, the students said that the plan did not include the $350,000 it costs to operate the building.

DesLauriers said that members of the sub-committee had indeed read and been interested in the students’ views, but that they had a deadline to meet to keep tax rates stable. “But things are changing,”  DesLauriers said, referring to the mandate for proficiency based graduation requirements that could open the door to a number of opportunities for innovative programming. “I’ll come and talk with the students, we’ll have lunch,” said DesLauriers, urging them to put their energies into Green Mountain.

White said that the students would be campaigning against the plan.

There will be a full meeting of the TRSU Act 46 Study Committee at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, at Chester-Andover Elementary School, 72 Main St. in Chester. It will be preceded by a RED sub-committee meeting at 6 p.m.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: AndoverCavendishChesterEducation NewsFeatured

About the Author:

RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Comments are closed.