On March 10, 2021

‘A divorce we can’t afford’

Stockbridge residents petition for revote after withdrawal from district is approved

By Katy Savage

Stockbridge residents decided 125-95 on Town Meeting Day to withdraw from the Rochester-Stockbridge Unified School District and operate Stockbridge Central School on its own, but days after the vote, a petition for a revote began circulating.

Janie Feinberg, who is leading the revote effort, expected to have the required signatures to submit the petition next week. Under Vermont law, petitions for a revote are required within 30 days of the initial vote.

Feinberg, a former school board member, said Stockbridge Central School’s divorce from the district would cost taxpayers more money and would make quality education unaffordable. She also feared Stockbridge Central School would be forced to close.

“Why would young families want to move into a town with no local elementary school?” she said in a document for voters called “A divorce we can’t afford.”

If the revote is unsuccessful and voters choose to withdraw from the merger again, the question will be presented to Rochester voters before going to the state board for approval.  It could become effective as soon as July 1, 2022.

White River Valley Supervisory Union Superintendent Jamie Kinnarney said he was disappointed by Stockbridge’s desire to decouple the district.

“Those two schools being together provides greater flexibility and opportunities to think outside the box,” he said.

The merged district was created in July 2018. Since then, Stockbridge voters have said the promises of the merger — including reduced costs and better education —haven’t been met.

Kinnarney hoped the budget being proposed this year begins to address those issues. The proposed $4.32 million budget, to be voted in May, is down nearly $200,000 from the previous year. The school district eliminated a principal position (it will now share one) and cut back support staff while budgeting for more education opportunities, including outdoor education and a foreign language curriculum.

“I think it starts to speak to the promise of the merger,” Kinnarney said.

But Joanne Mills, who led the initial effort to withdraw from the merger, said the improvements were too little too late.

“The unified board has scrambled to finally address a portion of the promises made to the Stockbridge community when the merger was voted on,” Mills said. “Unfortunately, it appears that these items were promised because of the impending vote. It seemed important to throw those promises out there and create the illusion that now they’re listening.”

Mills said she was frustrated a revote was being considered. “I’m disappointed that the vote of the people is not enough,” she said.

Kinnarney said the impending revote won’t affect plans for next year. He said he’d support the two schools regardless of if they were merged or not.

“We’re in kind of a limbo here over the next several months,” Kinnarney said.

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