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Whiting rejects school merger plan

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November 8, 2007

By MEGAN JAMES

WHITING/SUDBURY — The proposal to form a joint school district between Whiting and Sudbury was defeated on Tuesday when the two towns split the decision: Sudbury voters approved the plan, 53-39, and Whiting said no, 47-26.

In order to pass the measure, both towns had to agree.

Bill Mathis, superintendent of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, attended a portion of both town meetings Tuesday night where school board members discussed the merger with residents before the floor vote.

In Whiting, he suspected one reason voters rejected the joint school district was that they wanted to retain a sense of ownership over their village school.

“People have a tremendous amount of pride in their local community,” he said. “It’s something that’s precious to them. And even though their school would remain open, it strikes at some core values.”

According to Whiting Town Clerk Grace Simonds, Whiting voters were also wary of the costs involved in merging the schools, despite calculations distributed by both school boards showing a $134,000 decrease in the annual spending plan — each school would only need four teachers, rather than six, because class sizes would be larger — were the schools to merge.

In Sudbury, cutting costs was a key issue, but one that led the voters to draw the opposite conclusion. The school’s student body is declining — it serves 31 students this year — and taxpayers face a potential penalty from the state if the trend continues into next year. This is a typical problem for schools with small populations because at a certain point a school’s infrastructure costs remain fairly consistent even when the number of students falls.

“(In Sudbury) they were looking at the long-term effects and trying to find a way to have a school that was financially viable,” Mathis said.

The two school boards, which have been meeting together for more than a year, will convene again on Monday to broach the topic of revising the plan or bagging it all together. Regardless of the results, the schools will continue to share a principal, Mike O’Neill, who was hired last summer.

It’s too soon to tell what the next step will be, Mathis said.

“The problem is still a problem,” he said of the decreasing enrollment at both schools. “But the cooperation across the people and across the towns is just excellent. Everybody needs to take a rest, sit back a little and digest this. Then see where we go from here.”

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