By Curt Peterson
After 1 ½ years of fighting and pondering an independent school, the Barnard School Board agreed on Dec.17 to pursue a voluntary merger with the Windsor Central Modified Unified Union School District.
“I move that the WCMUUSD Board not pursue a forced merger, and require Barnard to vote in the affirmative before the WCMUUSD Board takes action,” said Woodstock Board representative Matt Stover.
The motion passed unanimously.
“This is a good partnership for us,” said Pamela Fraser, who represents Barnard’s High and Middle School students on the Board through the Windsor Central Supervisory Union.
The vote will be placed before voters on Town Meeting Day.
MUUD co-chair Paige Hiller of Woodstock said she met with board members to discuss Barnard’s pre-K program, establishing criteria for a “sustainable school,” clarification of the closure policy, and a more sensitive classroom and grade configuration policy.
Barnard at one time rejected the merger with the other six towns in the district, objecting to the Articles of Agreement proposed at the time. Hiller said the Board has decided to be policy-guided, rather than articles-driven, and a policy committee is working on significant amendments Barnard found compatible.
Hiller said half of the original articles are already irrelevant. “Barnard voters were never closed to the merger, just to the terms in the Articles of Agreement,” Fraser said.
Superintendent Mary Banios described forced or voluntary merger processes available. In the voluntary process, Barnard voters would have to approve merging with the Board, which would then have to ask the voters in the six participating towns to accept Barnard into the district. Votes would be co-mingled, and a simple majority would prevail. In a forced merger, the Board would hold a district-wide vote on the same basis – Barnard’s voters wouldn’t have a say.
The State Board of Education told Barnard they must merge with WCMUUSD if district voters approve accepting them. Barnard has joined a group of towns litigating against the forced mergers, which they would drop if voters approve merging.
This has been a long road for Barnard. Voters rejected the merger, and the school board presented a proposal for remaining independent to the Agency of Education. The AoE rejected that proposal, and recommended to the BoE that Barnard be forced to merge with the district. The BoE announced Nov. 30 they agreed – Barnard must merge.
Meanwhile Barnard considered closing Barnard Academy and reopening as a private school, to avoid merger. That idea was dropped because of ambiguous legality, personnel complications and limited resources. Recently the school Board has joined the suit against the BoE.
Hiller said the next step is to get relevant policy changes done so the vote can become reality.