On November 27, 2019

Barnard voters to decide on school merger

Vote scheduled for Dec. 10

By Curt Peterson

Barnard voters will decide whether to merge Barnard Academy into the Windsor Central Modified Unified Union School District on Dec. 10. Polls at the town offices will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Pam Fraser, Barnard representative on the school district board and Carin Park, chair of the Barnard School Board, hosted a public information session Thursday, Nov. 21.

Fraser is both a member of the consolidated district’s policy committee and represents a town that rejected merging their Pre-Kindergarten through sixth grade elementary school into the district in February 2017.

“I have one foot in each camp,” Fraser said.

Barnard Academy has 79 students K-6.

The Act 46 school consolidation legislation, expired July 1 and with it possible “forced merger.” The school district had already rejected forcing Barnard to merge, as a possible voluntary conjoining seemed promising.

Fraser has said at board meetings and in public that the amendments proposed for the Articles of Agreement “benefit all the schools in the district, and the Board is in full agreement,” she said. “These changes aren’t just to please Barnard.”

Regarding school closure, a major reason Barnard voters didn’t approve merging the first time, Fraser said previously it was too arbitrary. As amended, closing a school won’t be considered unless a newly-required annual report from the Supervisor indicates the cost per student at the campus was more than 120% of the district average for three years. In that case the town’s residents would vote on whether or not to close their school. If the cost per student rises above 130%, however, of that average for three years, voters in the whole district would vote on whether to close that school.

Barnard voters also feared arbitrary grade reconfiguration – consolidating grades and possibly leaving Barnard with Pre-K through grade 3, with grades 4 through 6 bused to another campus. Amended articles require standardized test scores 20 percent below district average for three years, cost per student is more than 120 percent of district average for three years, and/or certain enrollment decreases are incurred, per the Annual Report.

Fraser and Park are taking a neutral position regarding merger.

Park reviewed the pros and cons of merging. She said financial stability is a plus – the town would be protected from large surprise expenses such as an influx of students deserving special education. “That also means we would be absorbing surprise expenses in the other towns too,” Park said.

Principal Hannah Thein said “shared services” are a district benefit. Extra janitorial help, technical services or facility repairs, which Barnard has to pay for, would be provided by the district on fairly short notice.

Barnard has fine-tuned a “responsive classroom” teaching approach that Thein hopes could continue as part of the district.

Park said intra-district school choice might help Barnard acquire more students, which would help bring per student fixed costs down. But “it could go the other way,” she said. “Barnard students might go to other campuses.”

Downsides include school district representation, based on population. Woodstock has six of 18 representatives, and each smaller town has two. Fraser said Act 46 gave three choices of governance, and the board chose the population-based model.

Park said any imagined education tax rate reduction will probably not materialize.

Asked about the proposed new high school/middle school complex, Fraser said there isn’t enough information at this point to answer many questions about the project. She urged attendance at school district meetings to ask questions and voice opinions.

“Right now the board only hears from advocates,” she said, promising to post future meetings on the list serve.

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