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Petition Prompts Chelsea Revote in Planned Act 46 Merger 



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, December 09, 2017

Chelsea — A petition initiated by a couple of Chelsea High School students has prompted a revote on the Chelsea and Tunbridge school district merger, throwing another hurdle into a bid for a unified school district.

A petition of Chelsea voters with 48 valid signatures — one more than needed to meet the required threshold of 5 percent of the 937-voter checklist — was submitted earlier this week, and the Chelsea School Board met Thursday evening and set a Jan. 9 date for a new vote in Chelsea.

Although high school students may not be old enough to vote or sign the petitions, they can submit them, Chelsea Town Clerk Karen Lathrop said.

Voters in Chelsea last month approved the merger to create the First Branch Unified School District on a 197-110 vote, and it passed in Tunbridge, 207-61. That plan, spurred by Vermont’s Act 46 school district consolidation law, calls for Chelsea High School to close at the end of this school year and for each town to operate K-8 schools while also exploring a merged middle school program.

High school students would be tuitioned out from both towns, as is already the case in Tunbridge. The two towns already share school sports and offer a combined pre-kindergarten program, among other measures.

Chelsea High School had 14 graduates in its Class of 2017 in June.

The petition was initiated by Dylan Kuban, a 10th-grader in Chelsea, who said he worked with two other students and one of their parents. Kuban said he wants to graduate from Chelsea High School, as did his grandfather, father, uncle and cousins.

“It’s a really good school, and it’s a really big part of the community, and I feel Chelsea would be a different place without it,” said Kuban, who is on the baseball and soccer teams.

Tunbridge and Chelsea have voted on two different merger proposals this year. Linda Kuban, Dylan’s grandmother, said she voted for the first merger plan but not the second, and signed the petition for a revote.

“Basically I equated that voting for this merger would be like voting for our school budget with our School Board saying ‘we didn’t have time to put our school budget together, trust us, it won’t cost us much more than last year,’ ” Linda Kuban said.

Among the signers of the petition for a revote was Chelsea School Board Chairman Joe Spinella, who opposed the merger.

Spinella on Friday said he was unsure the merger would provide savings and also noted that students from low-income families might not be able to capitalize as readily on school choice options for high school because of transportation challenges.

“I’ve lived in two choice districts and what I’ve noticed is that because the school boards have zero control over the high school (tuition) budget, anytime there is a call from the state or the community to level-fund or reduce the amount of increase, it has to be taken off the elementary and middle school’s back,” said Spinella, who teaches at Hanover Street School in Lebanon.

The uncertainty over whether the merger will be re-approved by Chelsea means school officials in both towns have to prepare two budgets — one for the unified school district, and one if the status quo continues.

Tunbridge School Board Chairwoman Kathy Galluzzo noted that Chelsea “has had a very strong vote twice to merge.”

“I know closing the high school is very difficult ... but it’s part of Act 46 and I think it’s going to be a long road and cost more money for everybody if we don’t merge,” Galluzzo said.

“The part that makes me the most sad is we’ve gotten this far down the road, and the kids are (now) kind of in limbo,” she said.

An informational meeting on the re-vote will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 4 at the Chelsea Public School.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.