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Orwell challenged to fit into new district

ORWELL — Orwell’s three delegates to the Slate Valley Modified Unified Union School District will participate in an organizational meeting of the newly formed panel on Thursday, Aug. 10, at 6:30 p.m. at Fair Haven Union High School.
Vermont Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe will preside over the meeting, at which the board will deal with nine agenda items, ranging from electing a temporary presiding officer to establishing a date for the district’s annual meeting.
The new SVMUUSD includes five of the six Addison-Rutland Supervisory Union communities: Castleton, Benson, Hubbardton, West Haven and Fair Haven. Citizens of the sixth ARSU community — Orwell — voted three times against joining the SVMUUSD, which under Vermont’s Act 46 will function as a merged school district with a single K-12 budget.
Brooke Olsen-Farrell, superintendent of the ARSU, said Orwell’s three elected delegates — Peter Stone, Glen Cousineau and David Carpenter — will only be able to vote on the overall SVMUUSD budget and matters pertaining to grades 9-12. Due to Orwell’s decision not to formally join the district, the town’s delegates will not be able to participate in SVMUUSD board decisions involving grades pre-K to 8.
At this point, Orwell will continue to operate its existing elementary school as a “Non-Member Elementary District.” It will continue to elect its own elementary school board, vote on its elementary budget, and pay its own elementary expenses. And it will continue to send students to FHUHS, paying a proportional share of the budget based on enrollment.
The Vermont Agency of Education will consider Orwell’s current status and determine whether it can meet the principles of Act 46 on its own, or if it should be assigned to the SVMUUSD or some other unified school district.
Orwell could still take another shot at joining the SVMUUSD. Such a referendum would need to be held before June 30 of next year, and Orwell would not benefit at this point from any of the tax incentives and grants the state had offered to communities willing to embrace school governance unification under Act 46, according to Olsen-Farrell.
The SVMUUSD will meet again later this summer to formally elect its chairperson and vice chairperson, and begin setting the agenda for the new district.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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