By Stephen Seitz
LUDLOW — On May 30, voters in Ludlow and Mount Holly will decide whether to close Black River High School and send its students to Mill River High School in North Clarendon.
On Thursday, April 13, a committee of Ludlow and Mount Holly school officials and School Board members met to hash out the best way to inform the voting public and get them to the polls.
“I think a united front is the way to go,” said Chris Garvey, the newest member of the Ludlow school board. He said he sensed “divisiveness” between Mount Holly and Ludlow residents. Garvey attended the meeting by phone.
According to a draft fact sheet, keeping Black River open might increase the tax rates by 10 cents or more. Part of the reasoning behind Act 46 is to keep costs down.
A draft voter flyer from the Mount Holly school board states, “The merger will minimize fluctuating tax rates that result from year-to-year changes in the town’s student population.”
Two Rivers Supervisory Union Superintendent Meg Powden said she had already done some outreach for another pending merger prospect for Two Rivers. The towns of Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester vote on May 2 to decide whether to merge into a regional school district.
“[Green Mountain Chairwoman Alison DesLauriers] and I have already been to LPCTV and essentially gave our state board presentation,” Powden said. “We’ll probably do some more recordings.”
Cavendish Elementary School principal George Thompson said he could get that information into his community.
“I can take that link and make sure all of my parents get it,” he said.
Under Act 46, which seeks to address the twin problems of declining student enrollment and rising education costs, school boards are being urged to join together to provide similar education opportunities for all students. If the districts choose not to merge, then the state may step in to come up with a solution for them.
Powden said she was working on a PowerPoint presentation. Robert Herbst, who is chairman of the Mount Holly School Board, said the right format for informational flyers matters.
“We have to have the same message for both Ludlow and Mount Holly,” he said. “I don’t think offering pros and cons is a good idea. That’s a judgment call. I think we’re better off with presenting the facts.”
Mariel Meringolo, who also serves on the Ludlow School Board, said she wanted to be as fair as possible.
“It’s going to be difficult not to insert bias into the fact sheet,” she said. “That’s something we should all be aware of.”
Powden noted that the towns tend to have different polling hours, and said, “We have to coordinate the same hours for both Ludlow and Mount Holly.”
Thompson said he’d like to know exactly what the committee was going to tell the voters.
“We should include enrollment and projections over the next couple of years,” he said. “Do we want to talk about expanded learning opportunities? What about extracurricular activities?”
The committee made no decisions and will meet again to plan its strategy.
There will be a public forum on the merger proposal in the Ludlow Town Hall auditorium on Monday, April 24 at 6 p.m. Two more public forums, one in each town, are planned for May.