The Harwood Union school board is expected to take the next six weeks to examine a host of scenarios that could close one or more schools within the district, with eyes toward a bond proposal in March.
At the most recent board meeting on Sept. 25, school administrators spent two hours discussing the ramifications of the three scenarios chosen by the board earlier this summer. Below are the options, and implications.
The first option would close Fayston and Moretown elementary schools, and send all students in grades five through eight to Crossett Brook Middle School. Now, middle school students are split between Crossett Brook and the Harwood Union campus.
During the past four years, K-6 enrollment at Fayston has fallen by 34 students — or 36 percent — from 94 students in 2015 to 60 students as of Sept. 13 of this year. Enrollment has fallen to the extent that there is no third-grade class at the school this year.
Under this scenario, the Moretown school would still be used for pre-K, with expanded space for additional PreK students.
Unlike Fayston, Moretown’s K-6 numbers have risen by 18 students — or 17 percent — from 105 in 2015 to 123 this year.
So, if the schools close, where would the kids go? This scenario considers three options; first, Fayston’s K-4 students would go to Warren Elementary — located 8.1 miles away — while Moretown’s K-4 students would attend Waitsfield, 4.9 miles away.
The second option would send Moretown students to Thatcher Brook Primary School in Waterbury — 9.1 miles away — and Fayston’s students to Waitsfield, 4 miles away.
The third option would send half of Moretown’s students to Thatcher Brook and the other half to Waitsfield; at Fayston, half the students would go to Waitsfield and the other half to Warren.
This scenario would require construction of two classrooms and renovations to the kitchen and cafeteria, with an estimated cost of $2.9 million, at Thatcher Brook. It would also require renovation of the kitchen in Waitsfield, and design work to repurpose Moretown for additional pre-K students. Estimates for that work are yet to be determined.
The plans would also relocate the central office from leased space in Waitsfield to available space at Harwood Middle and High School.
All told — regardless of which option chosen — scenario A would result in $1.755 million in savings, including $1.585 million in staff, $132,375 related to operating Fayston Elementary and $38,250, the cost to lease the central office space.
Under scenario B, one of the four valley schools would close while the other three schools remain open, all students in grades 5-8 would attend Crossett Brook, and the central office would move to Harwood.
Between 2015 and now, Waitsfield’s K-6 population has risen slightly, from 112 students to 115 students; during the same time, Warren’s K-6 population has fallen from 150 to 128.
Below are the estimated savings to be found if a school were to close:
• Fayston: $1,401,875;
• Moretown: $1,514,418;
• Waitsfield: $1,503,075;
• Warren: $1,499,250.
This scenario envisions a number of options for where students would attend if a school were closed:
• Fayston: Either all students go to Waitsfield, or half the students go to Waitsfield and the other half to Warren. In either case, the Waitsfield and Warren schools have room to take the students without the need for additional space.
• Moretown: There are three options — all students go to Waitsfield, requiring three additional classrooms at Waitsfield; all students go to Thatcher Brook, requiring three additional classrooms; half the students go to Waitsfield and half to Thatcher Brook, which would not require additional classrooms at either school.
• Waitsfield: All students go to Fayston or to Moretown, or half the students go to each school. Sending all students to Fayston would require construction of an additional classroom. It has not yet been determined if sending all students to Moretown would require construction. The schools both have capacity to receive half of Waitsfield’s students.
• Warren: All students go to Fayston, or half go to Fayston and the other half to Waitsfield. The first option would require two new classrooms at Fayston, while the second option would not require additional construction at either Fayston or Waitsfield.
Under this plan, Fayston Elementary would close. Unlike the previous scenarios, all students in grades five through eight would not go to Crossett Brook; instead, fifth- and six-grade students would continue to attend schools in Moretown, Waitsfield and Warren, and valley students in grades seven and eight would continue to attend Harwood.
This proposal is estimated to save $1.27 million.
In terms of where Fayston’s students would go, the scenario offers several options:
• All students go to Waitsfield, requiring construction of one or two additional classrooms.
• Half the students go to Waitsfield and the other half to Warren, not requiring additional construction.
Under two of the three scenarios, all students in grades five through eight would attend Crossett Brook Middle School. That would mean two things — first, the valley schools that remain open would shift from a K-6 setup to K-4; second, all seventh- and eighth-graders who now attend Harwood would go to Crossett Brook.
Under any of the scenarios, additional construction would be required at Crossett Brook. As of Sept. 13, there were 306 students in the school, which has a capacity of 400, according to the Agency of Education. Scenarios A and B would raise Crossett Brook’s enrollment to 544, requiring a two-story addition and expanded parking at an estimated cost of $6.2 million.
Under scenario D — which keeps valley fifth- and sixth-graders at the elementary schools and valley seventh-graders at Harwood — Crossett Brook would be over capacity, with 425 students. This scenario calls for a single-story addition and expanded parking, at a cost of $3.3 million.
There has already been a migration of valley seventh- and eighth-graders to Crossett Brook. Since merging into a single district, parents in the valley have taken advantage of inside-the-district choice to send their children to Crossett Brook rather than Harwood.
The exodus has exploded this year, with 28 students attending Crossett Brook who would otherwise be at Harwood. The district allows intradistrict choice on a first-come, first-served basis, provided there is capacity at the receiving school and the move doesn’t require additional staff.
The board is expected to choose a scenario Nov. 13. In the meantime, it will host a public hearing on Monday, Oct. 7, at Crossett Brook.