Stowe residents will decide in less than two months whether they want to leave their merged school district after less than two years.
Stowe is part of the district with Morristown and Elmore.
The Stowe selectboard on Monday approved a vote for May 11 at the Stowe Arena.
Voters will be asked whether the town should withdraw from the Lamoille South Unified Union School District, formed in 2019 after the Vermont Board of Education forced Stowe to merge with two neighboring towns to the north.
A grassroots push for the vote happened outside of town government, which has done little to initiate merger divorce talks.
Dissolution is something done at the town level, not the school district level.
A small but active group of people opposed to merging with Elmore and Morristown well before the November 2018 state mandate led the charge. They even tried earlier this year to petition the town to get the article on the Town Meeting Day ballot using an online petition, but were rebuffed and told signatures for such measures had to be “wet” — signed by actual people using actual pens.
There was a lack of full-throated public support from the town selectboard. Now with a vote scheduled, though, its members have questions.
Board member Lisa Hagerty, for instance, said she’d like to see an analysis from Lamoille South about tax implications should Stowe go its own way.
Town Manager Charles Safford said he could ask for some data from school officials, but said the selectboard’s action on holding a vote became “ministerial” once the petition was turned in last week.
“I’m certainly not in position to provide a lot of factual information directly,” Safford said.
That’s OK, said Richard Bland, the Stowe resident who led the drive to get the vote on the ballot. There is plenty of information on the pros and cons of merging already available, and many of the people who signed the merger divorce petition will be disseminating that information in the coming weeks.
He did say, “Getting the financial information, from a tax standpoint, is absolutely imperative for all of us.”
Erica Loomis, one of the three Stowe representatives to the seven-person Lamoille South board, said questions will likely cover more than financial issues.
“There are going to be people that are very concerned about the taxes, and there’s going to be a segment of the population that’s very concerned about academics and curriculum, for example,” Loomis said. “So, I think if we know the silos that are most important to the voters, then that will help.”
The town is taking the opportunity during its special vote to squeeze another, totally unrelated, item on the ballot — asking voters to keep the town’s Masonic Lodge partially tax exempt for another five years.
Safford said the lodge has asked for and received that tax exemption before, but the town forgot to put it on the Town Meeting Day ballot this year.
“So, this seemed like an opportune time to get it back before the voters for their consideration,” Safford said.
The town had entertained tacking yet another article onto the May 11 ballot — whether to allow retail cannabis sale in Stowe, when such operations become legal.
As part of a miscellaneous cannabis regulation bill currently in the Legislature, any town that does not vote on whether to permit pot shops will be considered as opting in to allow them.
“At some point, it’s no longer going to potentially be a question of whether you want to opt in, but whether you want to have the opportunity to opt out by voting,” Safford said.
He said there’s no real rush, and such a vote could be pushed back to next Town Meeting Day. Town officials ultimately decided that, with a voter-driven vote on schools, it didn’t make sense to get into the weeds by adding cannabis policy to the mix.