The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board will pursue middle school consolidation for only seventh- and eighth-graders in the district, and it won’t implement any changes until fall of 2022. The motion to pursue middle school consolidation in 2022 passed on the evening of October 15 in a close weighted vote of 48.15% to 39.95%. However, the vote was split in terms of actual bodies, with six board members voting in favor of pursuing a 2022 merger and six board members voting against it. Two board members were absent that night.
One should note that board members who voted against the decision to pursue a 2022 merger didn’t necessarily want the merger to happen earlier. For example, Lisa Mason from Moretown, who voted “no” on the motion, was concerned about pursuing a merger without a bond.
“I can understand putting out a plan that’s contingent on the bond passing, but I’m not comfortable going forward with a plan to merge when the bond is failing,” said Mason. “I’m not comfortable putting students in a school that doesn’t fit them,” she said, referring to the fact that, if a merger were to happen, Crossett Brook Middle School (CBMS) would need to build temporary classrooms to fit all middle school students at CBMS until the district can pay to permanently expand the school with bond money.
Fayston representative Theresa Membrino, who also voted “no” on the motion, argued that consolidation would not significantly reduce taxes. “Even if we save a million dollars, that's 5 cents. Five cents on a 300K house, if you make $136,000 or more, is about $150 dollars in savings, which is basically a Netflix account. The narrative that it’s going to save our taxpayers tons and tons of money is false,” said Membrino.
In response to Membrino, Waterbury representative Alex Thomsen, who voted “yes” on the motion, argued that lowering taxes by any amount is a good thing. “I don’t think we should be deciding how much money is important to who, when $150 can be a lot for somebody,” said Thomsen.
Waitsfield representative Christine Sullivan, who voted “yes” on the motion, argued that pursuing the merger for fall 2022 would create a win-win situation in terms of budgeting and educational equity. “This allows us to move forward with the Harwood bond knowing that the seventh- and eighth-graders aren't going to be there. It may mean that we have portable classrooms at Crossett Brook for a year or two, but having them at Crossett while there’s construction at Harwood will allow us to both get savings on our budget and align the curriculum,” said Sullivan.
In other words, Sullivan believes that if Harwood Union Middle School (HUMS) students are going to be displaced in temporary classrooms due to necessary renovation at the high school, they might as well be in temporary classrooms at CBMS getting an equal education to their middle school peers.
With the intent to merge middle schools for fall of 2022 confirmed, the next step for the board will be to work on a timeline for the bond.