Chelsea Mulls Merger Options

  • Chelsea Elementary School first graders Evelyn Button, 7, middle, and Sarah Marshia, 6, right, pass eighth grader Olivia Sanford, 14, left, in the hallway on their way back to art class with print-outs from the computer lab in Chelsea, Vt. Wednesday, April 27, 2016. The future of the kindergarten through twelfth grade school of 170 students is uncertain as the town discusses its options under the Act 46 school legislation. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Mark Blount has been principal of the Chelsea School for four years during which enrollment in the high school has fluctuated from its high of 79 in 2013 to its current 64 students and tuitioned enrollment in the high school has dropped from 32 to 18. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Harley Blondin, 8, plays a game designed to teach keyboarding in her second grade class at the Chelsea School in Chelsea, Vt. Wednesday, April 27, 2016. A meeting was held Wednesday evening to discuss the future of the school under Act 46. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/28/2016 12:42:04 AM
Modified: 4/29/2016 2:52:52 PM

Chelsea — The future of the Chelsea Public School weighed heavily on the minds of parents and residents who gathered on Wednesday night to discuss the state’s school consolidation law and what it would mean for this small community.

Under Act 46, school districts are being encouraged to consolidate to form economies of scale that share resources and cut costs. For many of the people who packed in to the school gymnasium for Wednesday’s forum, the question was: What type of district shall we be?

The School Board is considering five options to answer that question, with much of the focus on changes to how high-schoolers receive their education.

The first option would create a school district that includes Chelsea, Bethel, Rochester and South Royalton. Each town would maintain a pre-K through 8th grade school, and collectively operating a union high school with anywhere between one and four campuses.

“To operate four high schools is not really what we’re about,” said Chelsea School Board Chairman Joe Spinella.

If the districts were to merge, it’s more likely that some of the towns would lose their local high schools in favor of buildings in a more centralized location, he said.

Sending students out of town for school was concern for resident Karen Colby, however. It’s a 22-minute drive between Chelsea and South Royalton, and that drive could mean children lose instructional time and after-school time, she said.

“(If) you put kids in cars, eventually time’s going to run out,” Colby said.

Of the 170 students enrolled at Chelsea, about 60 are high-schoolers, and a third of them already spend their days in educational settings outside of town. Spinella pointed to that as evidence that students don’t mind going elsewhere to receive the programs they want.

“I think that sort of informs us it might be more of a parent issue,” he said.

The district’s second option would allow Chelsea to continue its pre-K through 8th grade program, but offer school choice for high school. Some parents were concerned about the possibility that the new unified school board could close the Chelsea Public School if the district decided to merge with others.

Seeing the school close is a possibility, but there are protections against it, said School Board member Jessie Schmidt. Chelsea could ensure the school stays open for a given period of time as a condition of the merger, she said.

Resident Joan Goddard liked the idea of school choice. She has grandchildren in the district and said the status quo isn’t working.

“We can’t offer our kids what they really need,” she said.

Children today need the option to participate in advanced classes and more extracurricular choices to compete with their peers nationally.

The third option is similar, but instead of school choice, the district would designate one to three high schools that students could attend. School officials believe it would be cheaper than full school choice because the district could control costs by limiting the options, but residents had the same qualms and argued driving long distances wasn’t best for all students or parents.

The district is also considering going in a different direction and merging with Randolph, an idea put forward by officials there, said board member Emily Marshia.

The notion garnered some support from parents and students, who liked the option to join an already established high school, rather than one going through the same Act 46 growing pains.

The final option is to maintain the status quo.

However, not only was that an unpopular idea with some parents on Wednesday, it also would be a tough sell to the state, said Nicole Mace, executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association.

If a district doesn’t participate in a voluntary merger, the state has the authority to impose one that would take effect for the 2019-20 school year.

To prevent that, a district could file its own plan to maintain its single-district status, but the State Board of Education doesn’t have to accept it, Mace said. She said boards sometimes ask her what will happen if they miss the chance to voluntarily merge.

“It’s very unclear,” she said. “What is clear is the period of self-determination comes to a close.”

Former School Board member David Bradshaw said he’s willing to take the risk of state assignment and would rather fight to keep the district separate. He said the school provides a sense of community, one that bigger schools cannot.

“I will spend whatever it takes to support this school,” he said. “I’m telling you right now this school is what we’ve got.”

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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