Vt. communities consider school district consolidation - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. communities consider school district consolidation

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CABOT, Vt. -

Voters in six towns are weighing in on Act 46 school mergers-- that's the state's mandated effort to consolidate districts, improve services and lower tax rates. For Cabot, it could mean the end of their small high school.

School is out for the summer in Cabot, but with this last day also comes uncertainty about the tiny school's future.

"I would rather not see Cabot merge," said Fawn Wells of Cabot.

Just down the street at Town Hall, residents like Wells are voting on an Act 46 merger that could mean closing the high school that she graduated from and that she hopes her kids will someday attend.

"I really enjoy the fact that we are a small school which gives it more of a hands-on basis with learning and education and they're not just a number in the classroom," Wells said.

If approved, Cabot would join with nearby Twinfield and Danville, where voters must also approve the merger. The high school would close and its 50 students would tuition to those schools, leaving just K-8 for now.

If the first Act 46 mergers came easy, the decisions now are increasingly difficult.

"It does feel like a push to do something that might potentially diminish your kids' education and maybe not gain much, so I think it's a mixed bag," said Chris Tormey, chair of the Cabot School Board.

Tormey says the school board does not support the merger and hopes to come up with better options. Still, he says it's been a useful process.

But with Cabot's per student costs at $17,000-- some of the highest in the state-- some voters say it's a simple decision.

"In Calais, we knew we couldn't afford high school and so everyone just went somewhere else. There was no question. And we still loved our town," said Merlene Codling of Cabot.

So far, voters in 119 towns have approved 28 new unified school districts.

In Rochester Tuesday-- a revote to merge with Bethel and South Royalton. Approval there could also mean the closing of their small high school. Rochester voters already approved a merger vote in April. South Royalton, which initially voted it down, revoted last week to approve. Tuesday's vote gives Rochester residents a chance to reconsider.

In a separate vote, Montpelier and Roxbury are weighing their options. Montpelier and Roxbury have been called by some odd partners for a merger. Roxbury is a 30-minute school bus ride away from Montpelier, not exactly close. And some say the communities aren't that similar. But it could be a good fit. Montpelier, long wary of being swallowed up in a merger with nearby U-32, is eager to increase enrollment.

The clock is ticking statewide. The Agency of Education says districts that don't come up with an acceptable plan by this November could have one forced upon them come next year.

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