By Stephen Seitz
LUDLOW—On May 30, voters in Ludlow and Mount Holly go to the polls to decide whether to close the Black River High School.
Should that pass, Ludlow and Mount Holly would leave the Two Rivers Supervisory Union and join Mill River, which serves the towns of Wallingford, Shrewsbury, Clarendon and Tinmouth. The high school itself is in North Clarendon.
The Ludlow Elementary, Mount Holly, and Union 39 school boards held a joint meeting on April 5 to decide whether to adopt new articles of agreement cementing the proposed arrangement, which the boards did.
“I feel that there should be a vote,” said Union 39 chairman Bruce Schmidt, representing Ludlow. “I think there should be a direction. If there’s a feeling that this school can stay open, and it can be affordable, and it can provide the opportunities that the kids need, then I say go for it.”
Much of the discussion centered around the fate of the Black River building.
“I can tell you that Mill River does not want the school,” Schmidt told the boards. They absolutely do not want to be viewed as an organization that’s coming in and owning the building. “They really feel that while there may be some opportunities down the road to do something, they don’t want it thought they’ll own the building and hold classes there.”
Making potential property transfers difficult is an unpaid bond for the building, being paid for by both Mount Holly and Ludlow. It won’t be fully paid off until 2025, Schmidt told the board.
“If we give this to the town of Ludlow and there’s debt with it,” said Angela Benson-Cuifo, who represents Ludlow on the Union 39 board. “Who is responsible to pay for it? If we give it to the town and they have to pay that, do they bill the town of Mount Holly?”
“If we give it to the town of Ludlow, it becomes Ludlow’s debt,” said Two Rivers superintendent Meg Powden.
“Then Mount Holly’s debt would go away,” said Benson-Cuifo.
“Yes,” Powden replied.
Dave Younce, the Mill River superintendent, said the Mill River board was aware about the perceptions which might arise if they took over the building.
“They and I are really sensitive to the fact that this is a huge deal,” he said. “This conversation is a huge deal. None of them are overlooking that at all. Your two towns would have more than one-third representation on the board. You’d have six members out of 17. It’s not a majority, which means that the board at some point could decide what to do with this facility. The folks in the other towns see there’s a real burden in that, to being seen as the ones who made the decision to do something with the building, that potentially Ludlow and Mount Holly didn’t have any control over.”
Other board members wanted to know how Mill River determines its budget. Younce said his school system had adopted a new and simpler way of doing things. The previous system proved to be too fragmented, he said.
“We built our first system budget last fall,” he said. “We have a finance committee, which is a committee of the board. That finance committee gave me directives. Their first directive was to come in flat. We figured out what that looked like, and we figured out where the attrition was. We made the decisions which had to be made and went back. What I’ll tell you is that going through that process we created a budget that’s supported what we’ve been trying to do for the past few years. It worked really well.”
The full meeting is being rebroadcast on LPCTV, and can be found at the LPCTV website.