Featured, Local News

Barnard to vote on school merger Tuesday

By Curt Peterson

Barnard Town Offices will be open from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Dec. 10 for voters to decide by Australian ballot whether Barnard Academy will merge into the Windsor Central Modified Unified Union School District.

Pam Fraser, Barnard WCUSD board representative for the middle and high school and Carin Park, Barnard School Board chair, hosted two public information meetings in November, and a public hearing on Monday, Dec. 3.

Barnard voters rejected merging their 79 kindergarten through sixth grade students with the consolidated district in March 2017 over four major issues —loss of their renowned pre-kindergarten program, representation on the consolidated board, threat of school closure, and proposed grade reconfiguration that might leave only three grades in Barnard.

The pre-kindergarten issue has been resolved, Fraser said at the December hearing.

“Every elementary school in the new district has a program now,” she said.

Woodstock has six board representatives and each of the other towns has two. Fraser said Act 46 offered three choices for governance structure. The original board chose representation by population. Governance model can only be changed by district-wide vote.

Fraser said proposed changes in the articles of agreement have since eliminated arbitrary power to close or reconfigure grades on a campus.

School closure requirements will depend on the supervisor’s annual budget. Each campus incurring cost per student more than 120 percent of the district average for three years would trigger closure consideration, subject to town voters’ approval. If cost per student exceeds 130 percent district average for three years, closure would require approval by voters of all districts.

If campus standardized test scores are 20 percent below district average for three years, cost per student is more than 120 percent of district average for three years, and/or specific decreases in students occur, per the supervisor’s report, reconfiguration may be considered.

“The amendments benefit all the schools in the district, and the board is in full agreement,” she said. “These changes aren’t just to please Barnard.”

Act 46 expired July 1 2019 – now no authority can force Barnard to merge. Voters will choose joining the district or elementary school independence – Barnard’s middle and high school students will still be included in the unified district either way.

Merging would provide “financial stability”, Park said. Large surprise expenses such building issues or special education costs would become shared responsibilities both ways. Estimates for replacing BA’s aging HVAC system and upgrading safety and security range from $95,000 to $350,000.

“We would be sharing expenses of other towns too,” Park said.

Principal Hannah Thein described challenges of running a very small school – the teachers are also first aid responders and part-time custodians whileThein does hot meal duty and a lot of substitute teaching.

WCUSD Superintendent Mary Beth Banos said merging could provide needed resources and teachers could teach and the principal could administer.

Banos and Thein cited collaboration between BA and WCUSD. For example, district teachers are becoming familiar with Barnard’s responsive teaching approach.

Low student population continues to plague small schools’ budget and resources. Park said WCUSD “school choice” could bring more students, or some might transfer out.

Savannah Carr, 19, a college student and Barnard Academy and WUHS alum, posted disapproval of merging, inspiring a listserv discussion including WCUSD board member Bryce Sammel, Fraser, and Park.

Carr objects to “selling” Barnard Academy for $1 as required in a merger. The $1 was meant to be token legal consideration – merging towns actually pooled their schools to form the unified district. BA would have several new owners, and the town would have an interest in all the other schools.

Other issues Carr attributed to the merger included possible loss of teachers’ jobs, increased taxes, and loss “of the expert learning that comes out of our amazing school …”.

Sammel, Park and Fraser provided measured responses to all of Carr’s statements and questions without appearing to argue in favor of the merger vote. Through their statewide union Barnard’s teachers would continue to have the same job security with or without the merger, Sammel wrote.

The Mountain Times reached out to Carr for comment and source documentation, but she did not respond in time for publication.

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