On Tuesday, June 7, residents in each Valley town voted to consolidate school governance and budgets more quickly than the state may force them to do so.
The lowest voter turnout was 12.5 percent in Waterbury and the highest was 31.4 percent in Warren. Of 10,176 registered total votes in Valley towns, 1,965 showed up at their polling places. The combined vote totals in the six towns was 1,558-410.
Only one seat out of 14 seats on the new unified school board was contested. In Warren, Rosemarie White was elected over Valerie Bigelow, 204 to 157. White is a proponent of early merging and served on the Act 46 study committee since last fall
Bigelow had voiced numerous concerns about the law and said that she wanted to run so that Warren residents as a whole would be better represented. Alycia Biondo secured the second seat on the Warren board and has served on the Act 46 study committee with White.
Currently, each school has its own school board with about 30 board members total in the Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU). That number will soon be reduced. Beginning next year, a consolidated board called the Harwood Unified Union School District, composed of 14 members, will represent all Valley towns and schools.
Individual school boards will continue meeting for a short time in order to tie up loose ends, such as with their budgets.
WWSU superintendent Brigid Scheffert Nease and a majority of WWSU school board members have echoed what the state has put forth – that the law will create financial savings and more educational opportunities in Vermont schools. Others have argued the contrary.
Many community members and one Warren Elementary School Board member, Jen Watkins, have not been in favor of the merger. They have called attention to the potential loss of local control for school staff and residents, with decision-making power more concentrated in a smaller group of individuals.
Another major concern was that voters did not receive information about options other than to merge quickly and that the process was rushed.
Taxpayers will receive tax reductions in the next five years as a reward for consolidating quickly. These are 10 cents off every dollar of property value in the first year, 8 cents in the second and so on, each year reduced by 2 cents.