By Curt Peterson
Barnard voters decided 119-85 to merge with Windsor Central Supervisory Union on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
Residents had long debated joining Windsor Central prior to the vote. Some in Barnard wanted to turn Barnard Academy into an independent school to avoid the school’s potential closure in the future.
The merger will require voters in six other towns in the district accepting Barnard participation, and amendments to the original 2017 WCUSD articles of agreement covering issues of sustainability, grade reconfiguration and school closure. Barnard School Board chair Carin Park said the amendments replaced arbitrary policies surrounding configuration and closure with meaningful criteria and processes. These two issues were major reasons Barnard originally rejected joining WCUSD.Pamela Fraser, Barnard representative on the WCUSD Board, said the amendments are not for Barnard – they provide important criteria that protect every school in the district. Park, Fraser and others invested effort into resisting a “forced merger” under Act 46, then working with the district to find the path to a successful merger vote. About 29% of the 715 registered voters turned out to vote.Tim Johnson, Select Board, chair said given the amount of time people spent talking and posting on the listserv about the vote, he was disappointed with the low turnout. He senses those opposing the merger feared losing control over “their school.”
Originally an advocate for Barnard Academy independence, Johnson told the Mountain Times the article amendments resolve the issues that bothered him.
“My objections are satisfied in the amendments,” Johnson said, “and moving the sixth grade to a bigger school with more educational opportunities is a good thing, but I’m still skeptical – if things start to go the wrong way I’ll be the first to advocate pulling out and going private.”
Barnard invested about $15,000 in legal fees fighting to keep Barnard Academy independent.WCUSD superintendent Mary Beth Banios described the relationship between the Barnard School Board and the district as cordial and productive.“I believe that this merger will be mutually beneficial and look forward to the enhanced partnership that will be possible as a result of our communities coming together,” Banios wrote in an email.“While giving up autonomous control of our school budget is … a leap of faith, Barnard will enter into a full merger relationship with the [WCUSD] with the same good will that the … Board reflected when they refused to force us to join last winter. I look forward to a wider community getting to know what a special place Barnard Academy is!” Park said in an email.
District board member Jim Haff said he is “really glad” for the Barnard vote results.
“The FY2021 budget is really challenging,” Haff said, “and Barnard’s 70-plus students will be a big positive.”
Woodstock Union High School has the district’s highest cost per/student, and Barnard’s per student figure is low – the district budget will be helped by the larger number of students and Barnard’s lower operating costs, Haff said.
Barnard Academy Principal Hannah Thein wrote, “I am confident that we will continue to collaboratively work together to realize the Portrait of a Graduate and the district strategic plan. I am sure that Barnard Academy will retain its ‘small school feel’ and its academic rigor. I think that this merger is an opportunity to grow, and at the same time retain our uniqueness and vibrancy.”