EDUCATION: High school choice possible

Mergers, discussion could open options in 11 communities

Michelle Monroe

By Michelle Monroe

Executive Editor

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SWANTON — High school choice could expand for students in Enosburgh, Richford, St. Albans City and St. Albans Town, all of which currently have a designated high school.

Superintendent Jay Nichols of Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union (FNESU) presented the possibility Tuesday night to a committee studying the merger of all of the FNESU schools into a single district.

A Franklin Central Supervisory Union (FCSU) study panel already has proposed a merger of the school districts of Fairfield, St. Albans City and St. Albans Town. Merger votes will take place in those communities on Town Meeting Day.

If both mergers happen, Nichols recommended the new merged FNESU enter into an agreement with a merged FCSU to allow students from its eight communities to choose between Bellows Free Academy (BFA) in St. Albans, Enosburg Falls High School (EFHS) and Richford High School.

FCSU Superintendent Kevin Dirth said he also would present the possibility of a high school choice agreement to the FCSU merger study committee. That committee is considering making recommendations to the board that will govern the merged district. It would be the new board that would have to negotiate, approve and sign the agreement.

If Fairfield voters opt to merge with St. Albans City and St. Albans Town, BFA would become the designated high school of Fairfield students, about 20 of which currently attend EFHS.

Similarly, EFHS and Richford High School would become the designated high schools for Bakersfield students. Bakersfield also sends students to BFA.

Legally, all students in the new districts would have some high school choice under Act 129, which creates high school choice for students in communities that also operate a high school. Schools boards, however, can adjust the number of students they accept each year under Act 129. South Burlington, for example, accepts just one student per grade level under Act 129.

An agreement between the two new districts would safeguard the students from any changes in Act 129 made by the Vermont Legislature or decisions by the board to reduce the number of students accepted.

The agreement would be a legal contract, with terms to be negotiated by the two new boards.

Both FCSU and FNESU would have to approve a merger for the proposal to work, said Nichols.

As proposed, neither of the new districts would pay tuition for its students but would allow state aid to follow the student. Thus, if a Fairfield student went to EFHS, the state money paid to that school for that student would go to the FNESU district, not the FCSU district.