When the Harwood Unified Union School District Board revoked the decision to freeze intradistrict choice (IDC), it seemed that the merging of Harwood Union and Crossett Brook middle schools next year was inevitable. After all, the decision to revisit the idea of merging seventh- and eighth-graders at Crossett Brook next year happened after Superintendent Brigid Nease offered her reasoning on the benefits of a merger.
Last night, December 11, however, the school board did not vote to merge the schools. Instead, board members voted against the motion to merge for the 2020-2021 school year. The weighted vote total was 33.1 percent in favor and 51.85 percent opposed. Board chair Caitlin Hollister, Waterbury, and vice chair Torrey Smith, Duxbury, did not cast ballots. This vote came as a shock to those who anticipated the earlier merger after soaking up pro-merger sentiments from the board.
Rosemarie White, Warren, was one of several board members who spoke in favor of the early merger, although she hadn’t always supported it. “I voted against this (merger) at a previous meeting and have decided to change my mind, and vote to bring seventh- and eighth-graders together next year.” White was concerned that if the board didn’t vote on this merger now, they would continue to “kick the can down the road.”
White wasn’t the only board member who changed stance on the merger. “I voted against this last time and I’m going to change my vote with some caveats. I’m still concerned about class size. But the reasons I voted against this last time was because I thought we needed funding and approval of a plan prior to making a move, and I was concerned about the annex classrooms. But with the new information, I am far less concerned,” said board member James Grace, Waterbury.
Another board member in favor of the merger was Alex Thomsen, Waterbury, who emphasized the importance of listening to the experts. “When we as a board come up without own plan, things get complicated. I’m unclear why we keep disregarding the recommendations of the admin team. It is not our job to do their job for them,” said Thomsen. “We need to have the courage to do what is being recommended.”
Although many of the board members who spoke at the meeting were pro-merger, and some even changed their mind to be pro-merger, the majority disagreed. One board member voiced distain at the constant opinion-flipping in the process. “It’s troubling that we’re back here. If I were a teacher, I would be head spun. People are entitled to more stability and predictability,” said board member Gabriel Gilman, Moretown.
When the public got a chance to give the board some input, some people shared their exasperation with the board’s tendency to change course. “I’m perplexed at this board and how y’all are making decisions,” said Teresa Wood, during public comment. “It seems like it’s a perpetual runaround. You make the decision, retract the decision, and make it again. It doesn’t do much to engender public trust and confidence.”
What happens now, with IDC open and the merger called off? The board made a new motion to table for their next meeting: to develop a ballot item for Town Meeting Day to ask voters to approve the existing and future needs of Crossett Brook. The board wants to do more research on what resources middle schools need before they go on to make a decision that will permanently impact families.