By Evan Johnson
ROCHESTER—The 17 high school students at Rochester School will be able to attend the high school of their choice next year, significantly changing the composition of secondary education in the town.
The latest development in Rochester’s search to provide quality education for its young people and comply with state education mandates follows the failure of a proposed merger with Bethel and Royalton last month.
At a community meeting on July 13, the School Board presented the public with two options. Despite a school size about equal with most high school soccer teams, Rochester High School can still operate for the coming school year, a move that would require replacing four faculty members that had resigned. That hiring process has been put on hold in the hopes that families would choose the second option: to tuition their students to area high schools. The supervisory union will not be able to guarantee transportation for students traveling outside of Rochester.
“The school board has decided to offer free tuition to anybody in the high school to go to surrounding schools for 2017-2018,” said school board chair Jeff Sherwin, “rather than trying to find staff for one year to replace the people that have left.”
The future of the Rochester school has been the subject of discussion for the past months. In March, before town meeting day, the School Board received a petition calling for the shutdown of the middle and high school and the restoration of local control to the school. The board, after consulting with an attorney, did not put the motion before voters, saying they found the petition to be too vague.
Now, Sherwin said, there’s no time to discuss closing the schools completely as the deadline for an approved unification plan approaches. “The school year would start before we could warn the vote,” he said.
Some Rochester residents have cried foul, alleging that the board engaged in procedural improprieties. The Vermont Secretary of State’s office, when asked, said it was not investigating the matter.
Next year’s plan for the high school does not bring Rochester into compliance with Act 46, the state’s education mandate. The Rochester school district still needs to submit a plan by August to the Agency of Education, have it approved, and then warn it for a town vote. According to Act 46, smaller school districts must merge or join with larger ones by 2018. It’s unknown how many students will remain and how many will leave. Families will have to decide before the school year starts in August.