Letter to the Editor: Orwell can run its own school

On Town Meeting Day, Orwell residents once again chose to vote against a proposed merger under Act 46. The results were clearly incontestable, as the proposal was defeated by 62 percent to 38 percent of voters. There has not been a significant change in voting results over the course of three consecutive votes, in spite of some changes to the merger proposal prior to this latest outcome.
Let me first state my appreciation for members of the Orwell Village School Board, and members of the Act 46 study committees for the ARSU district. These individuals are performing difficult, often unrecognized roles that are vitally important to our community and our children. Following this most recent result, the question becomes, “What is the next step?” I believe that it is imperative for the Orwell Village School Board to actively advocate for their students, while trying to act in the stated interests of the majority of town voters. I don’t believe that three overwhelming “no” votes are the result of residents being coerced or confused into voting against their wishes, or being unaware of the consequences.
There is a clear desire to seek an alternative road forward in this process of consolidation. We have been advised by the Act 46 study committee that there are only two potential choices following this “no” vote. There can be another revote, if petitioned by town residents. Alternatively, we can wait for the state to “determine our fate.” However, there is a third option, and I believe this is what Orwell residents are seeking. The final choice, as stated in the “Unmerged Districts and Alternative Governance Structures” section of Act 46, would be to develop an alternative governance structure that would meet the objectives of Act 46.
A proposal can be submitted, up until Nov. 30, 2017, to the Vermont Agency of Education, as well as the ARSU district, describing how the Orwell Village School would function as an independent K-8 grade structure. I am proposing the formation of a study committee made up of Orwell residents to assist the Orwell Village School Board in developing such a proposal.
There are certainly enough dissenting voices within the Town of Orwell to sit on such a committee. I would hope that the Orwell Village School Board would be receptive to the input of such a group. I would also hope that those who have vocally opposed this merger would be willing to serve on such a committee. The language of Act 46 appears to allow for alternative structures other than complete merger of K-12 boards.
It may very well be that the state has no intention of allowing anything short of total consolidation. If this is the case, I would rather know sooner than later that this course of action is not going to be allowed. I’m sure that the voters of the Town of Orwell would agree. Please put an end to Act 46 informational sessions and endless revotes so we that we can move forward and take this next step.
David Rockwell

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