The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board moved forward with a preK-12 redesign plan that calls for closing Fayston Elementary School and moving all Moretown fifth- and sixth-graders to Crossett Brook Middle School. The vote was 50.20 in favor to 39.95 against. Board chair Caitlin Hollister, Waterbury, did not vote.
At the Harwood board’s November 13 meeting, board members were split on which scenario to advance. Before the vote, the board heard from community members in an hourlong public comment section.
The board had to vote on the following options: keeping the status quo, where the district would operate the same seven buildings it currently does now; and option two, which has three variations of scenarios to close Fayston Elementary School and move all seventh- and eighth-graders to Crossett Brook Middle School, one of which would also move Moretown fifth- and sixth-graders to Crossett Brook.
The motion on the table at the November 13 meeting read as follows: “To continue exploration and development of a preK-12 plan, in accordance with the Articles of Agreement, that includes closing Fayston Elementary School, combining seventh- and eighth-graders to Crossett Brook Middle School and moving Moretown Elementary fifth- and sixth-graders to Crossett Brook.”
Moretown representative Gabe Gilman offered an amendment to strike the language involving moving the Moretown’s fifth- and sixth-grade students to CBMS. The board discussed the amendment briefly before allowing the public to enter the discussion.
Moretown community members were surprised to hear that Moretown fifth- and sixth-graders were part of the motion. Community members wanted to know when this plan was brought up. Board members responded that this was one of the sub-variations of the scenarios that the board was to vote on. Gilman’s amendment failed and the original motion was put back on the table.
Many residents spoke during the public comment session, most suggesting that the board move forward with the status quo until there were other possibilities explored. Others were eager for the board to make decisions, as this process or some portion of the process had been going on for years. Some of the residents were excited to hear that if the middle schools did merge, Duane Pierson and Tom Drake would be co-principals at CBMS.
Tensions were high in the room. Board members delivered their reasoning behind their vote. Those in favor of the motion on the table wanted to bring the middle school students together sooner. Others wanted to save money and said that spending almost $10,000 more per pupil for Fayston students was unfair to the district and to other schools.
Those in opposition supported maintaining the status quo until the board could find more creative alternatives that did not close any schools. Some said saving $70-$100 in property taxes is not worth losing a school and staff. Others thought that the board had gone the wrong way with this process; where they are considering closing schools, they should be considering methods to bring more families into the district and more child care programs.
Torrey Smith, Duxbury, vice chair of the board, said that keeping the status quo means duct taping here and there and cutting programs and faculty to try to pass a reasonable budget. The board struggles to cut the annual budget that increases every year, she said, noting that the board was disheartened to hear community members say the board is holding the high school ransom to get agendas passed.
“What I like about this plan, is it gives us a chance to finish answering the questions, and then once we have answered the questions to our satisfaction then we make the worst, hardest decision to close or not to close a school. At this stage, we are talking still, which plan we are going to flesh out, which one we are going to get all the numbers on, where are we going to see people fit, if they fit, none of that before a final vote to close a school,” Smith said.
Each of the 14 board members has a weighted vote. Each town has two representatives to the board except Waterbury, which has four due to its higher population. Duxbury representatives each have a 5.2 weight, equaling 10.2 percent. Waterbury representatives each have a 9.85 weight, totaling 39.4, and 49.8 for the north side of the district. Waitsfield and Warren both have 6.7 weights per representative, resulting in a 13.4 total weight per town. Fayston representatives have a 5.25 weight for a combined 10.5; and Moretown has a weight of 6.45, equaling 12.9. Warren, Waitsfield, Fayston and Moretown have 50.2 of the vote while Waterbury and Duxbury have 49.8.