Local parents and community members submitted petitions with 883 signatures to the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) central office this week.
The petitions seek to change the Articles of Agreement by which voters in the six-town district agreed to merge in 2016 under Act 46. The amendments sought to Articles 6 and 12 address school closure, intradistrict school choice and major school and grade reconfigurations within the district.
Mariah McGill, Waitsfield, one of the petition organizers, said they needed 600 signatures to get the two proposed amendments on the ballot for Town Meeting in March.
“It went better than we could have anticipated. We have a very large buffer and many more signatures than we need. It was an amazing groundswell of support,” she said.
Working as the Vermont Coalition for Community Schools (VTCCS), organizers will now bring the amendment to voters as Australian ballot items at Town Meeting in March.
Their effort follows a November 13, 2019, vote by the HUUSD Board to move ahead with a district redesign plan calling for closing Fayston Elementary School, merging middle schools at Crossett Brook and moving Moretown fifth- and sixth-graders to Crossett Brook – all for the 2021 school year.
Article 6 prohibits school closures for the first four years that the district is operational without consent of the voters in the town targeted for school closure. The proposed amendment strikes the requirement for an affirmative vote of the town targeted for closure and makes minor changes in language where rather than the board discussing school closure, they’d be required to discuss “proposed” school closure.
Additionally, the VTCCS amendment calls for adding language to Article 6 that requires voters in a town in which a school is to be closed to vote by Australian ballot to approve the closure.
The language to be added to Article 6 is as follows:
The proposed changes to Article 12 define major configuration as occurring when one or more grades are moved from one school to another or any changes that result in 10 or more students from any school moving to another. Additionally, the change requires the board to hold two public hearings in the town affected, pass any such configurations by a two-thirds majority after a simple majority of voters in the town approves configuration. The amendment would declare null and void prior votes on configuration such as the November 13, 2019, vote.
School board chair Caitlin Hollister said that the board would consult with its attorney on the question of how the proposed amendments might impact the school district budget that will also be voted on at Town Meeting.
“We're going to need advice from our attorneys and follow their counsel. We are operating under our current articles and will continue to do so unless advised otherwise. Right now, I don't have a legal opinion in hand so I can't speculate on what we might have to do,” Hollister explained