Rochester and Stockbridge Focus on Merger Proposal

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Communities / Sep. 7, 2017 9:05am EDT

By Martha Slater

The Rochester-Stockbridge Study Committee continued at the August 30 meeting to fine-tune the merger proposal that it will likely present to the state Board of Education (BOE) on September 20.

Committee chair Carl Groppe introduced the new WRVSU business manager, Ashley Barnhart.

Consultant Steve Dale reported that that the BOE had agreed, earlier that day, to revoke the proposed Rochester-Bethel merger (Plan B) as requested by those towns.

Dale reviewed how the cost-per-student is determined, since the local cost-per-student drives the local tax rate.

Dale also shared information from the committee’s attorney, Steve Stitzel, noting that the draft report asks voters to approve a Rochester-Stockbridge school merger with the assumption that grades 7-12 would be closed. Stitzel has advised that the proposal needs to be changed to indicate that approval of this proposal by Rochester voters is contingent upon them agreeing to close grades 7-12.

He said there should be a separate article about that on the Rochester warning for the merger vote. Both Stockbridge and Rochester will vote on the same date. No date has been set, but it would have to be before November 30 to collect Act 46 incentives and protect grant money.

There was also discussion about the annual school meetings, and the general feeling among those present seemed to be that holding a floor meeting in both towns, with voting from the floor on both the election of board members and approval of the budget, was the preferred method.

A review of financial information sparked a lengthy discussion about all of the “moving parts” that would have to come together in a merger of the two schools.

Groppe said the official cost-per-student in both Rochester and Stockbridge had been similar. However, he explained that the Rochester number had been artificially lower, because of the school’s high number of “phantom students.”

Dale and Barnhart went over figures for both schools, including debt balances, property to be transferred, and insurance values. Comments provided by both the public present and committee members were used to fine-tune the proposed budget figures.

More discussion centered around the issue of whether the school district should transfer the former Dandelion Daycare building and the high school building to the town for one dollar. Voters would have to approve that as a separate article.

The committee also reviewed the second draft of the report to be presented to the BOE on September 20. The committee agreed to change the formatting to put financial scenarios on single pages in the final draft of the report.

The next committee meeting was set for Wednesday, Sept. 6 at the Stockbridge School, to go over the merger proposal and make a decision on whether or not to submit it.

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