Last Chance To Vote On Act 46 Plan

Front Page / Sep. 28, 2017 9:13am EDT

SoRo, Bethel Try Again
By Sandy Vondrasek

Voters in Bethel and Royalton will have two opportunities next week to get their questions answered about the new school merger plan developed in recent months by a two-town study committee.

The information sessions on October 4 and 5 will also be a chance to meet most or all of the eight people, four each from Bethel and Royalton, who are seeking seats on the six-person board that would oversee the merged district—if voters approve the merger.

Voting on the proposal and for board members will be Tuesday, Oct. 24, in polling places in the respective towns.

If voters give the plan a thumbs-up, the new district would begin operations on July 1, 2018.

Next week’s informational meetings are:

• Wednesday, Oct. 4, at Whitcomb Junior-Senior High School, 6-7 p.m., and

• Thursday, Oct. 5 at the South Royalton School, 6-7 p.m.

Each session will include a prepared presentation as well as a question-and-answer period.

Board Candidates

There are contested races for just two of the six seats on the board. In Royalton, Chris Riley is seeking the one-year seat, Andrew Jones is running for the two-year seat, and Shannon Morrill Cornelius and Tim Murphy are running for three year seat.

In Bethel, is is Lisa Floyd for the one-year seat, Lisa McCrory for the two-year seat, and Nancy Cyphers and Rodney Rainville both seeking the three-year seat.

Voting will be “at-large,” with voters from both towns able to vote for one candidate for each of the six seats.

Christine Hudson, chair of the Royalton School Board and a member of the study committee that produced the new merger plan, this week expressed unequivocal support for it.

“I think the new plan is exciting,” Hudson said. “I honestly feel like it’s an even better plan than the first.”

As in an earlier proposal, this plan calls for a high school at the South Royalton School and a middle school at Whitcomb in Bethel, with elementary students educated in their hometown schools. The new plan modifies the “Center for Experiential and Environmental Learning” (CEEL) concept that, in an earlier three-town merger proposal, was to have been based in Rochester.

Now, the merger plan calls for hiring a CEEL coordinator, instead of operating a CEEL center.

Both Hudson and Lisa Floyd, a member of the Bethel School Board and the chair of the study committee, spoke in support of this change.

The coordinator, Floyd said, would support classroom teachers in incorporation experiential learning into their instruction and also assist students in accessing alternative learning options outside of the classroom.

More Courses

Having larger cohorts in each grade via the merger will mean a dramatic increase in course options at the merged high school, Floyd added.

Royalton students would see a 30% increase in course offerings, while those from Bethel would see their options increase by 80%, she said, adding, “With increased AP offerings, we will have more opportunity to keep more high school leaders in our building.”

Recent years have seen a growing number of high school students opting to spend their senior year outside of the school, at a variety of “early college” options. At small schools, this flight can leave a tiny senior class and a school struggling to offer course variety.

Middle school students will also see their course options increase, Floyd said.

New options at a merged middle school will include foreign language classes and more “STEAM” offerings (science, technology, engineering, art, and math), she said.

Although committee members are enthused about the new plan, Floyd admitted that turnout at two informational sessions a few weeks ago was very light.

Choice?

Floyd said that she has heard from a few Bethel residents in favor of offering high school choice—as opposed to being part of a merged high school.

Floyd admitted just one year ago, she considered choice “a positive option.”

Now, she feels the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. One big concern, she said, is equity, as students whose parents are able to transport them to their school of choice would have an advantage not available to all.

Hudson said she has not heard of anyone in Royalton supporting the choice option.

“I have not heard from anybody in Royalton that is against this plan,” she added.

Hudson said she feels that one “downside” of choice is that students who were classmates through middle school end up scattering to other schools for their final four years of public school education.

Hudson pointed out yesterday that the October 24 vote will be the last chance for Bethel and Royalton to approve a merger that has the financial incentives of Act 46. By the end of November, she said, state officials will begin reviewing options for towns that have no mergers in place.

More information on the plan is posted on the Bethel Royalton Merger Facebook group.

“You have to ask to join; we haven’t turned anyone away,” Floyd said.

Return to top