As former Stowe, Lamoille South Supervisory Union and Lamoille South Unified Union school board directors, we are voicing our support for Stowe withdrawing from the forced merger of the Stowe and Elmore-Morristown Unified Union school districts.
Is this vote a legal pathway to separation? Yes, and this was confirmed by the town’s attorney, Dina Atwood, at the March 8 Stowe Selectboard meeting. Her written legal analysis states, “The process for withdrawal of a town from a merged district is vested in the voters of the town … If the local voters approve of withdrawal, the withdrawal goes before the State Board of Education. The state board has taken the position thus far that it does not have any authority to force a town that has voted to withdraw to stay in the merged district.”
If we leave the district, are we guaranteed to go back into a supervisory union structure like we had before? What happens next after the vote? We are looking to withdraw so we can revert back to our original structure of side-by-side independent school districts — continuing to share central administration, curriculum offerings, negotiation of teacher contracts and sports teams. Is a reversion guaranteed? While nothing in life is guaranteed, the town attorney contacted the Agency of Education and was told “it would more than likely be the result that if Stowe withdrew it would remain in the supervisory union.”
The issue of whether Stowe, Morristown and Elmore should merge has been studied for 18 years, and there were two major studies conducted by committees with representation from all three towns. Both studies determined that there was no justification to merge. Student outcomes and equity would not improve, and there would be no cost benefit.
Both the 2017 alternative governance proposal and the 2013 Regional Education District study determined that the Lamoille South Supervisory Union had two high-functioning school districts, and both recommended that Morrisville-Elmore and Stowe remain two separate, side-by-side school districts.
The time spent analyzing and weighing the educational and financial implications of this issue and the amount written about this issue has been exhaustive. Close to 200 pages of information on this issue are publicly available.
The recent alternative governance proposal was unanimously supported by every school board director from Stowe and Morrisville-Elmore. Both boards understood that there was nothing to gain from a consolidation and likely much to lose. The boards understood that in order to provide the best success for students, two nimble, cost-effective boards were far superior than creating the $32 million plus consolidated entity that exists today.
Therefore, it is not surprising to any of us that have been involved over the years that the forced merger has had negative consequences for all the students of unified district.
Right now, the law allows for merged towns to vote to withdraw. This window of opportunity may soon close, and we believe it is in the best interests of all students and taxpayers to end this forced marriage.
Lack of transparency on several key issues masks student and school performance results, as well as voting outcomes. We can no longer see all Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test results by grade and gender for our schools or our high school’s graduation rate or list of college admissions. We don’t have access to or have direct control over our town’s per pupil costs. We can’t even see election results on how each town’s residents voted on school board issues and the school budget.
What are the factors that contributed to the drop in certain school ranking? This lack of transparency of school and student performance, a direct result of the forced merger, has led to Stowe High School losing its No. 1 Vermont high school ranking in U.S. News and World Report. Both Stowe and People’s Academy are now unranked high schools.
Next week we’ll take a look at sharp declines in enrollment, diminished control and negative financial implications.
Richard Bland, Jim Brochhausen, Drew Clymer and Leigh Pelletier are former Stowe School board, Lamoille South Supervisory Union, and Lamoille South Unified Union school directors.