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With merger complete, Slate Valley consolidation plans underway

Published: Nov. 12, 2020 at 6:56 PM EST
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - A newly merged Vermont school district in the Rutland County area is now going through the challenging process of re-distributing students and staff, and possibly closing a school.

Enrollment in the schools that now fall under the new Slate Valley Unified School District has declined by about 300 students over the past 10 years. Now, following the Act 46 merger, changes are beginning to happen. “You’re giving students more opportunities by bringing larger groups together and being in buildings that can house those opportunities,” said Castleton Schools Assistant Principal Ben Worthing.

Shrinking class sizes is one of the main drivers behind Slate Valley’s consolidation plan. Right now, there are only eight seventh and eighth-graders at the Benson Village School. Under the reorganization plan, those students would be moved to other K-8 or middle schools in the district, before al middle schoolers move to Fair Haven High School the following year.

“It’s going to be much more advantageous for them to go to a slightly bigger school and make that medium adjustment before going to a middle school that will be based out of our high school,” said Benson Village School Principal Amy Roy. She says the move will also ease the burden on Benson’s 10 teachers. “It will also free up our teachers to teach more of their subject area and not have to cover so many grade levels.”

School Board Meeting minutes say families have not raised concerns, but Benson resident Tanyia Bowen is one of those we spoke with who have reservations about the plan. “This is what everybody’s used to and it’s easier. Sometimes, if it’s not broken, we shouldn’t fix it. But as long as the kids are okay and it doesn’t raise our tax dollars anymore,” Bowen said.

Just off Main Street in Castleton is The Castleton Village School for grades six through eight. Another part of the consolidation plan would see sixth-graders moved to Castleton Elementary School. Once the 7th and 8th graders move to Fair Haven, it would eliminate the need for CVS. If the school board moves forward with closing the school, there will be a vote in the spring of 2022 between Castleton and Hubbardton.

Officials say closing CVS doesn’t just benefit the students, it also keeps the taxpayers in mind. The school budget was voted down twice and on the third time it passed by only 16 votes. “There are maintenance upkeeps that are tough that we’re trying to do under budgetary constraints,” Worthing said.

He says a huge concern is the infrastructure. The Castleton Elementary campus is newer and the Fair Haven campus is in a great location. It’s a new proposal, but the idea has been tossed around for about 15 years.

“We did kind of go through an analysis and study to see if moving all kids up to Castleton Elementary School was feasible. It wasn’t the right thing at that time, but I do think there is a wide base of support to do this,” said Tim Smith, chair of the Slate Valley Unified School Board.

Slate Valley Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell has planned meetings with the communities at the end of this month and in January to discuss further plans. At a December 7th meeting, 75% of the school board members will have to approve the plan in order for it to move forward.

The district would be looking at a reduction of 20 to 25 staff members, but Smith says he is confident teachers currently in the middle school will find a place working within the district.

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