By Stephen Seitz
LUDLOW—On May 30 the towns of Mount Holly and Ludlow narrowly defeated an Act 46 merger proposal, which would have closed Black River High School and sent the students of those towns to the Mill River Union Unified School District in North Clarendon. The combined votes of both towns came to 636 in favor of the merger, and 680 against, a difference of 44 votes.
The voters themselves were split on what they wanted: Mount Holly voted heavily in favor of the merger by 391 to 153. But Ludlow came down against the merger with 245 in favor, 547 against. Both towns, both of which send students to Black River, had to approve the merger plan for it to advance.
Supporters of consolidation said closing Black River would have reduced property taxes and offered students more educational and athletic opportunities.
Opponents feared that closing Black River would result in students losing the closeknit community and individual attention that a smaller school of about 150 students can provide.
“Based on what I heard at the community meetings, there seemed to be people advocating to keep Black River open,” Two Rivers Supervisory Union superintendent Meg Powden said. “I’m still new to the community, so I had no sense as to how they would vote.”
Powden said she understood why Ludlow’s voters made the choice they did. “It’s hard to let go of a school,” she said. “”A school is a part of the community, and that is difficult to lose.”
The school boards are now back to square one. Under Act 46, school systems have been told to consolidate for the purpose of addressing falling enrollment numbers and containing rising costs.
Powden said the boards would be meeting soon. “It depends on what our boards want,” Powden said. “We’ll be holding a carousel meeting soon to discuss the next steps.”
Options that had been explored by the local Act 46 study committee before moving forward on the Mill River plan included joining the Quarry Valley district with the towns of West Rutland, Proctor and Poultney; becoming a district that tuitions out secondary students under school choice; or merging with the Green Mountain Unified District.
Alan Keays, a reporter for VTDigger, contributed to this report.