Vermont lawmakers created Act 46 in 2015 in an effort to merge schools and improve access to quality education.
But as Vermont schools face more closures and cuts, some are calling to undo their mergers and separate from their districts altogether.
On Tuesday, Moretown voters said “No” to withdrawing from the Harwood Unified Union School District. Meanwhile, all six towns surrounding Ripton voted “Yes” to withdraw from the Addison Central School District, which was required for the vote to pass.
That was Middlebury (1180 Yes; 312 No), Weybridge (217 Yes; 40 No), Cornwall (425 Yes; 67 No), Salisbury (174 Yes; 45 No), Shoreham (210 Yes; 32 No), and Bridport (189 Yes; 58 No).
Act 46 works to address schools with declining enrollments and increasing costs. School in this position will likely combine with others.
“So that no matter where you live in Vermont, you had access to a quality educational experience,” said Vermont Law Professor Jimmy Carter.
Carter points out that the policy isn’t perfect and may not provide what certain communities need.
“It’s like we have declining enrollments, so it makes sense to consolidate. On the other hand, if you take the public schools out of the community, what young people, young families are going to want to move there,” said Carter.
Carter says while Act 46 comes with economic benefits, there’s a community component as well.
“While it might make financial sense, when you take the school out, that place of gathering for community members – school plays to athletic events to musical recitals – it’s something gone. And that’s something you can’t put a financial price tag on. And so I think you’re seeing some communities now take a step back and say, ‘hey, can we adjust this, even if we went along in the beginning,” said Carter.
On the ballot, voters in Moretown were asked if they should withdraw from the Harwood Unified Union School District. But the article did not pass; a relief for the Moretown’s Select Board Vice Chair John Hoogenboom, who says the article was put on the ballot pre-maturely.
“This is something we’re still in discussion about, but because a petition was presented we had to take action on it now,” said Hoogenboom.
He says while he is against the Board closing Harwood Middle School, he believes it’s not the time to withdraw from the district.
“Especially since it’s still during COVID, this is the wrong time for anything, the wrong time for any school to talk about combining schools, closing schools, it’s just not the right time,” said Hoogenboom.
The Town of Ripton had a similar discussion. In January, the town voted to separate from the Addison Central County School District. On Tuesday, it was up to six towns to choose whether to break away from the merger.
“There’s a really hard push to get people in other towns to vote yes so they essentially wouldn’t determine the fate of Ripton, Ripton gets to determine its own fate,” said Ripton Elementary Principal.
Harrington says she preferred to stay in the district.
“I do think our families are better served in the larger district. There’s a lot of coordination and expertise and shared resources that we get being a part of the district,” said Harrington.
With all six towns voting to withdraw from the Addison Central School District, the vote will now go to the school board and, lastly, the Agency of Education.