Washington and Orange look to collaboration
By David Delcore
Staff Writer | March 23,2013
WASHINGTON — It isn’t about saving money, though “financial stability” could be one of the byproducts of a newly rekindled conversation between two rural Vermont school districts.
It is about “improving education quality, equity, and efficiency” in both Washington and Orange and it may mean collaborating in ways that have been studied and rejected before.
At this early stage only one thing is certain: if a broad-based committee appointed by both local school boards recommends the creation of a “joint contract school district” and both boards believe that would be a good idea the final decision will ultimately be made by voters in two neighboring towns that have been down this road before.
Just not recently.
In January 2008, Orange voters balked at a similar proposal that was the product of a two-year study and the idea was abandoned despite having passed easily in Washington. The vote in Orange was 29-56.
After several months of separate discussions that started last summer, both boards decided to dust off an old idea they believed warranted a second look. An exploratory committee composed of board members, parents, principals, staff members and residents from both communities was appointed and has held two “introductory meetings” — the first at Orange Center School in January and the second at Washington Village School earlier this month.
A February meeting was scratched when a health issue forced the committee to switch consultants, but Superintendent Susette Bollard said things are now back on track and a committee that is intent on being as transparent as possible will hold its third meeting Monday night Orange Center School.
The 6 p.m. session will be facilitated by consultant Harry Frank and is open to the public. Interested residents from both communities are encouraged to attend.
So far, Bollard said, the committee hasn’t discussed much in the way of specifics. However, it will be taking a hard look at the joint contract concept in coming months. The idea could lead to a restructuring of two schools that each serve 92 students in towns with nearly identical populations – just over 1,000.
Though it isn’t yet clear what that re-structuring might look like, the committee’s three-point purpose is clear: “investigate ways to strengthen early (pre-K-3) programs in single-graded classrooms;” “broaden opportunities for students in grade 4-8 with subject-specific teachers;” and “create financial sustainability for both communities.”
Due to their relatively low enrollments both schools are forced to employ multi-age classes — a cost-saving configuration that wouldn’t be necessary if they were to join forces. Another potential advantage could involve the ability for teachers in fourth through eighth grades to focus on specific content areas instead of having to teach them all.
The committee is expected to weigh those and other potential benefits and assess issues ranging from financing to transportation, before deciding whether the idea is worth pursuing further. If that is the case public forums will be held in both communities before any votes are scheduled.