Westminster considers withdrawing from merged unified school district

WESTMINSTER, Vt. – An informational School Board Meeting was recently conducted via Zoom conferencing, as Westminster residents determine if the town should secede from the merged school district with the towns of Grafton and Athens.

Westminster had previously been forced to join the unified Windham Northeast Union Elementary School District in the fall of 2018, as created by the Vermont State Board of Education under Act 46. The three towns had previously fought the school consolidation law merger all the way to the Vermont Supreme Court.

According to another current Vermont law, however, it is understood that town residents can also vote to withdraw from a merged school district after a one-year period, if they did not originally vote to form the union. Westminster is now considering the possible change after a recent Vermont Board of Education ruling that has allowed the towns of Readsboro and Halifax to break their unified district, which they had also been forced to do under the state’s consolidation law.

The Westminster Education Advisory Committee created a petition in order to help organize this special vote on possible secession, headed by former chairman of the Westminster School Board, David Major. The plan is to reform the town’s school district with hopes of also stimulating interest and involvement in local education, which has seemingly decreased since the unified school district had been formed.

“It means demonstrating to our children how democracy runs and how participating can make a difference,” Major said during the meeting regarding the possible secession. “That, as I experienced it, was very important to me growing up and is important to many in the town now… when they can witness people getting together and making decisions about the school they attend.”

If the decision is made to secede from the unified school district, and although all three towns would still remain part of the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, the change would allow each town to make their own decisions regarding all school matters without a unified vote involving all three towns.

Topics of the recent discussion included whether a combined student body of about 250 students truly requires three separate school boards, while there are also concerns about the possibility of losing state funds for cooperative learning and other programs as a result of secession.

The items on the ballot include whether the voters should approve Westminster’s withdrawal from the unified school district, and if so, to also authorize and instruct the Westminster School Board to undertake the steps necessary to form a Westminster Town School District that is responsible for the operation of schools and educational programs.

If the Westminster voters are in favor of withdrawing from the merged school district, the voters in Grafton and Athens will have 90 days to vote on ratifying Westminster’s decision. If all three towns approve, the request to officially withdraw would then go to the Vermont State Board of Education. Under current law, the board must approve the request unless they feel the schools cannot comply with the guidelines pertaining to state educational programs.

At press time, the special vote on withdrawal from the unified school district was scheduled for Jan. 5.

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