Will the voters of Mount Holly and Ludlow vote to retain control of their own schools and the education of our students?
1. If the proposed school merger between Mount Holly and Ludlow is approved, then Mount Holly and Ludlow will each keep their own elementary school for grades Pre-kindergarten through 6 governed by a new joint school board. Students in grades 7 -12 will have a choice of what middle and high school to attend. Black River High School will close within two years.
If the merger fails, the two elementary schools and U39, after filing Section 9 reports, become a side-by-side district with the Green Mountain district in Chester. Then the State Board has the authority and will, in all likelihood, put the Mount Holly, Ludlow, U39 school district into the Chester centered Green Mountain district, which, as members of the Green Mountain district indicated, will close BRHS anyway. That Board has said it will not run two high schools since Green Mountain Union High School could easily absorb the Black River students. Since Mount Holly and Ludlow would only have minority representation on this enlarged board, there is no way that move could be blocked. Mount Holly and Ludlow School Board discussion with the consultant hired by the two boards indicated that this is the most likely result if the merger fails.
2. The new Mount Holly-Ludlow merger proposal provides protection for our elementary schools since the Articles of Agreement state that neither elementary school can be closed without a unanimous vote of the new Board and a positive vote of the town involved.
3. The new Board will be made up of eight members, four from each town though they will be elected by the entire membership of both towns. Mount Holly and Ludlow schools will be governed by Mount Holly and Ludlow people. If our schools are put in the Green Mountain district, under the larger Chester based Board, we will have little say in the governing of our two elementary schools. They wouldn’t have the protection they would have under this new merger proposal.
4. There should be significant cost per pupil tax reduction when the merger becomes final July 1, 2018 and when BRHS is closed in 2020. Further, if the merger fails, the district will lose approximately $131,000 in small school grants and will also lose the 3.5 percent Hold Harmless Provision, costing further money should school populations drop.
All of this raises our taxes. The estimate is an annual savings, if the merger is approved, of about $600,000. If the merger fails, all of these savings disappear along with the tax incentives which would reduce taxes by .08, .06, .04, .02 each year over 4 years. Apart from those incentives, it is estimated that the Mount Holly tax rate will drop by about .12 and the Ludlow rate by about .20 if the merger is approved.
5. The issue of student transportation has been discussed and the district consultant has estimated that providing transportation to Mill River High School and Green Mountain High School would cost about $30,000, adding perhaps one cent to the tax rate.
This is the last chance we get to control our own destiny as far as education in our two towns is concerned. We can control our own destiny by voting “yes” for this new merger plan or let the State Board of Education do it for us by voting “no,” which will still close BRHS while leaving the people of Mount Holly and Ludlow with no say, no choice in where our students can go after leaving elementary school.
Furthermore, not only will the control of our two elementary schools be turned over to a larger Board centered in Chester, it likely will leave some Mount Holly students with a 60-mile round trip bus ride to and from school each day.
This new merger proposal involving the two elementary schools and 7-12 choice may not be a perfect solution and not what many may have desired; but it leaves educational decisions in the hands of the people of Mount Holly and Ludlow rather than turning those decisions over to the state – and eventually a bigger Board in the Chester based Green Mountain district. We control our own destiny, and, as an added benefit, it saves us money. A winning combination.
Article written by Peter B. Smith of Belmont, Vt.