Empty school, phot from  Ivan Aleksic on unsplash.

Seventy-three of the 315 responses to The Valley Reporter/Waterbury Roundabout online survey about the failed school budget mentioned the possibility of closing Fayston Elementary School and at least 17 other responses mentioned closing schools in general.





The process for closing one of the five elementary schools in the Harwood Unified Union School District is spelled out in the 2016 Articles of Agreement that were ratified when Waitsfield, Warren, Duxbury, Moretown, Fayston and Waterbury merged into one school district. The merger became official on July 1, 2017.

The process spelled out by the Articles of Agreement requires an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the school board, but that vote can’t happen without at least three public hearings, one of which needs to be held where the school closure will be. No school could be closed within the first four years of consolidation.


After the public hearings and a 10-day warning period before the school board’s vote, board members could vote to close a school and set a time frame to do so. But closure requires that all students in the closed school must be able to attend the elementary school closest to their home unless their parents are using intra-district choice to place them in another school.

Fayston is a hilly community that abuts Warren, Waitsfield and Moretown. Students from Fayston could easily be closest to Waitsfield and Moretown, but some could also be closest to Warren.

And there’s the rub. According to HUUSD superintendent Dr. Mike Leichliter, there is not enough room in other district elementary schools to accommodate the 95 K-6 students and 21 preschoolers at Fayston. Across the district, preschool students only attend school part time with some schools offering two days a week, some schools offering half days, some offering five days a week in half-day sessions, etc.


Leichliter shared a document from TruexCullins, the architects the district has used for bond planning and other projects, that recommends how much space schools need per pupil. Separate 2007 Agency of Education guidelines recommend 140 square feet (sq ft) per pupil. Using those figures and counting preschool students in the total enrollment figures, Waitsfield and Moretown schools don’t currently offer 140 sq ft per pupil.

Here's the breakdown using February 2024 enrollment figures:

Brookside 199.85 sq ft per pupil

Fayston 206.89 sq ft per pupil

Moretown 133.93 sq ft per pupil

Waitsfield 137.50 sq ft per pupil

Warren 204.54 sq ft per pupil

But that 140 sq ft figure is currently a moot point according to Ted Fisher, the Vermont Agency of Education spokesperson. He noted that that figure was part of the state’s education construction funding program which currently does not exist, although state funding for school construction projects is back under consideration.





In an interview this week, Leichliter was joined by school district finance director Lisa Estler who explained that there is no direct relationship between closing a school and any projected cost savings. Some fixed costs will travel with the students, she said, including paraeducators, teachers and aides.

“If there’s an IEP that goes with the student. We have to make sure that the other building has appropriate services as well. And if you’re increasing capacity, in theory, then you have to increase services because a lot of the services for students with IEPs are calculated in minutes, how many minutes they give certain kinds of instruction like specialized reading for example,” Leichliter said.

“And if you’re increasing capacity, you have to look at extending lunches. At Brookside we have an undersized cafeteria, so students eat lunch in shifts with the first lunch period starting around 10:30 a.m.,” he said.


“But there are different kinds of capacity. There’s a rated capacity which is what the fire marshal would say you can fit in a building and there’s functional capacity which is what you look at in your class sizes along with what the building can handle,” he added.

At a March 13 board meeting, Leichliter said absorbing students from a closed school into the other elementary schools would involve costly capital spending. Asked this week if he had any sense of what those capital costs might be and what work would need to be done in the receiving schools, Leichliter said that had not been explored in depth yet.

“And that’s one of the reasons why doing something like closing a school can’t be done as a quick budget fix in the course of two months. It needs to be a long-term study by the board to see what the options are and where the community is,” he said.

In 2019, there was a debate about closing Fayston School among the district administration, school board and community. While the school board in November that year voted to explore the possibility, it ultimately opted not to pursue the move. The only consolidation the unified district has attempted to date was a proposal to merge the seventh- and eighth-grade classes at Harwood Middle School and the fifth- and sixth-grade classes at Moretown into Crossett Brook Middle School. That was proposed in 2020 without any permanent expansion to Crossett Brook.





That year the $39,770,000 budget was voted down 3,048 to 2,254. That budget included $315,000 for temporary classrooms at Crossett Brook to accommodate the additional students. A subsequent budget vote that did not call for merging those students at Crossett Brook passed in June 2020.

“Simply closing schools is not a solution. In order to consolidate you have to look at your facility and there are big price tags for massive renovations or new construction. With the state currently not funding school construction, it’s not feasible,” Leichliter said.


Should the school board, administration and community revive the discussion around consolidating elementary schools, a likely starting point would be to look at the associated costs and enrollment at each school.

According to the 2024? HUUSD annual report, the annual cost of operating Fayston Elementary School is $2,178,730. The cost of Warren School is $2,902,100. The cost of Moretown Elementary School is $2,870,856. The cost of Waitsfield School is $2,920,102 and the cost of Brookside Primary School is $7,632,273.

Here’s the enrollment, including part-time preschoolers for each school:

Brookside 352

Fayston 116

Moretown 165

Waitsfield 160

Warren 132