Essex Town School Board contemplates district merger

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By Matthew Preedom
For The Essex Reporter

Monday evening the Essex Town School Board discussed the possibility of a merger with the Village and Westford’s school districts.

Vice-chair Dan House said that he sees a “contradiction in Vermont between the values of frugality and independence.” He recalled that when he came to Essex 12 years ago, he was surprised to learn that the town and village had separate districts, which struck him as an inefficient system. But House said that regardless of what efficiencies might be created, the priority is to do “what’s best for our kids. If Essex and Essex Town were unified, would that help our kids and increase opportunities? Are we better off as a 4,000 student district than with 1,200? I don’t know, but we need to find out.”

Board member David Clough reminded everyone that he was on the board the last time this discussion came up, and he said that “there is nothing that a town is more proud of than its school.”

“I’ve heard many people say they moved to the town because of the town’s schools,” Clough said. “They’ve told me that if they wanted their kids to be part of the Village’s district, then they would have moved there instead.” Clough was concerned that a bigger district might depress individual involvement, thereby decreasing the resources and attention available to each student.

Board Clerk Rachel Preston concurred that there were a number of issues that needed to be sorted out, but she thinks now is the time to start a conversation.

“We should be proactive because the state may force our hand later and we need to be prepared.” Preston said, “We need to have answers to questions like ‘what does this look like for our students and our administration? How does it functionally impact the student’s experience and is that good or bad?’ If we do all of this investigating and go through the hardships, but it doesn’t provide anything for our students, then where is the value?”

At the end of it all, the board decided to contact the school boards for the Village, Westford, the high school and supervisory union to schedule a meeting to discuss the questions each have about a merger.

Gleason summed up the sentiment of the board that they are “open to learning what opportunities we can create for our kids and if we can conserve resources for our community, in that order.”