Townsend votes whether to secede from school district

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(Host) Voters in Townshend will decide Wednesday night whether to secede from the Leland and Gray Union High School District.

VPR’s Susan Keese has the story.

(Keese) The vote on whether to withdraw from the union district was triggered by a petition signed by 63 Townshend voters. That’s the 5% necessary for a town-wide vote.

Liz Dery says she’s one of a group of taxpayers behind the petition drive. They opposed an unsuccessful bond vote for school improvements last year. And they fought the current $4.3 million Leland and Gray budget. The budget, a 5% increase, passed on its third vote this summer.

Dery says the high school administration and board keep adding costly programs and new staff while enrollment remains flat.

(Dery) “And for regular people to attempt to disagree with, that it’s very, very hard to be heard.”

(Keese) Dery says the school’s performance doesn’t reflect those high costs. She says withdrawing from the union would allow parents to choose where to send their children to high school.

Townshend is the host town for Leland and Gray. Townshend School Board Chairwoman Loree Zeif says she thinks most parents would continue to send their children there. She says that if Townshend leaves the union, it will lose its right to vote on the high school budget. It will also lose its seats on the board.

(Zeif) “So we’re really concerned that the vast majority of our students will continue attending Leland and Gray. And parents of those children would have no ability to vote on budgets and have board membership. And of course the board has a lot to say about the curriculum and how the school’s run.”

(Keese) Zeif says the research suggests that Townshend’s costs would be about the same if the town secedes, but probably less predictable from year to year.

Withdrawing from a high school union isn’t easy. Bill Reedy is general counsel for the state department of education. If Townshend votes to secede, Reedy says, the four remaining districts in the union must agree to let that happen.

(Reedy) “And any single district could in essence veto the withdrawal. Then after that there would be a report to the state board and the secretary of state. So there are a number of steps in the process that would have to occur.”

(Keese) Reedy says the process is also complicated by shared capital debt and ownership of buildings and resources. He says no member towns have seceded from a high school union in the 15 years he’s been with the department.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Townshend.

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