The respective towns in the Slate Valley Unified Union School District voted to accept a merger with the Orwell School District on Tuesday night, said Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell.
“I am pleased with the outcome of the vote, as I feel it is best for our communities, staff and most importantly our students,” Olsen-Farrell said. “I am looking forward to coming together as one entity and charting a new path forward as we begin to define the new Slate Valley Unified Union School District.”
Residents in Benson, Castleton, Fair Haven, Hubbardton and West Haven and Orwell voters already belonging to the Slate Valley district voted 2,216 to 1,615 to accept the Orwell School District, which comprises only the Orwell Village School.
The 150 students in kindergarten through 8th grade will now join Orwell grades 9-12, Castleton Village School, Benson Village School, Castleton Elementary School, Fair Haven Grade School and Fair Haven Union High School.
Olsen-Farrell said besides the dissolution of the Addison-Rutland Supervisory Union, the merger wouldn’t affect any immediate changes to the school, as grades 9-12 already attend FHUHS.
Orwell residents voted three times to remain apart from the district, but after the Board of Education voted last month to consolidate the school district, it was out of Orwell’s hands.
“Orwell independently in this process doesn’t have the ability to say ‘no,’” said Donna Russo-Savage, Act 46 specialist at the Agency of Education. “This is the ‘final stage’ of Act 46. There were three stages prior that Orwell could have taken advantage of ... the districts that haven’t merged under Act 46 are now subject to this plan.”
Many residents are worried the merger could result in the eventual closing of the school entirely, which Board of Education Chairwoman Krista Huling said could be a possibility.
In the Addison-Rutland Supervisory Union’s Articles of Agreement, written when the union was formed, “The Union School District shall not close any schools within its boundaries during the first four years it is fully operational and providing educational services. After that, an affirmative vote of three quarters of the full membership of the board of directors shall be required to approve the closure of a school.”
Which means other members of the district would have no say.
“I could see why Orwell would be worried about the school closure,” Huling said last month. “But they would have to change the articles of agreement. That would be a lot harder now, at this point.”