As school officials in Elmore, Morristown and Stowe wait to see if legal and legislative efforts can thwart a forced merger of their school district, they are laying the groundwork for a new, merged district.
Under current law, the new district would go into business July 1, and it needs a budget, rules and school board members.
On Jan. 14, the new Lamoille South Unified Union District was formally established.
Next up is Feb. 26, when residents of Morristown, Elmore and Stowe will cast ballots on the new district’s governing principles — everything from how many people are on the new school board to which students go to which school and, eventually, the procedures for closing a school, if it comes to that.
Those articles were drawn up by the State Board of Education, and some can be amended to custom-fit the school district. A seven-person committee of school officials and residents from all three towns is working on amendments.
Here’s what’s up for a vote Feb. 26, when Elmore, Morristown and Stowe residents will cast ballots at their normal polling stations.
School closing and attendance
The committee amended an article designating a student’s school of attendance as the one he or she “would have attended” this school year, by extending that designation from two years out to four years out. That timeline also goes for any school-closings by the merged board.
Elmore was allowed to keep its young children at the one-room Elmore Elementary School when it merged with Morristown three years ago, and this would protect that another four years.
But Carla Blood of Elmore said if school designation is extended further, then Elmore kids wouldn’t be able to go to either Morristown or Stowe, and vice versa.
And Stowe School Board member Tiffany Donza, “speaking as a resident,” said planning improvements at the schools would be more difficult if parents decided to send their child to another of the three towns.
The basic rules call for two school board members from each of the three towns. But the committee thought Elmore would get outsized influence that way, based on its small population. Population estimates from 2017 are 868 for Elmore, 5,422 for Morristown and 4,472 for Stowe.
So, the committee went with a seven-person board, 3-3-1, with only one Elmore representative. In elections, votes would be commingled among voters in all three towns.
There was some discussion about the fairness of Elmore only getting one vote, and not just from Elmore voters. But officials said that weighting the representation based on school population — if it were weighted based on town population, Morristown would likely get another representative — was the fairest way.
Stuart Weppler of Elmore said another way his town’s residents could look at it is that their board member would be the “pivot,” the tie-breaking vote.
Committee member Jim Brochhausen, during Monday’s Stowe School Board meeting, said voters have two choices on their board makeup. Either they can vote for the 3-3-1 composition proposed by the articles committee or they can vote it down and the 2-2-2 default will be the new board’s makeup.
“In a way, this is more democratic,” Brochhausen said. “The three communities now have real choice.”