ST. ALBANS — The proposed merger of the four school districts operated by Fairfield, St. Albans City and St. Albans Town met with overwhelming approval in all three towns on Tuesday.
St. Albans Town voters approved the merger, 1,090-645. Fairfield said ‘yes,’ 376-152. St. Albans City voters provided the largest margin of voter support, approving the merger 1,070-299.
Franklin Central Superintendent Kevin Dirth told the Messenger this morning, “I’m really pleased that the communities saw the need to do this. I think it’s going to be transformative for this area.”
“It’s an exciting time where we can make some real positive changes,” said Dirth. “We can offer even better education for all of our students in our new district.”
Dirth said he is looking forward to working with the new board.
Members of the tri-town panel that took on planning for the merger sold it to the public as an opportunity not only to meet a state mandate but for greater efficiency in education and cost savings. In addition the merger was seen as a means to raise standards and equalize education for all students in all three communities.
The new 10-member school board will begin setting up the new district immediately, and will resume control of it on July 1, 2017, when the current districts and boards will cease operations.
Eight members of the new unified board were running unopposed, with one contested seat and one seat with no candidates.
Nina Hunsicker, a member of the St. Albans Town School Board, appears to have won the contested race. She received 969 votes in the three communities for a two-year seat representing St. Albans Town. Steve LaRosa came in second with 880 votes and Carolyn Zak received 737.
LaRosa received the most votes in Fairfield and St. Albans City, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Hunsicker’s lead in St. Albans Town, where she received 511 votes to 385 for LaRosa and 405 for Zak.
LaRosa also had asked voters to write in his name for an open one year seat representing St. Albans Town on the unified board. Results from that race will not be known until tomorrow, as all three town clerks were still counting the write-ins.
Also representing St. Albans Town on the new board will be former Franklin Northwest Superintendent Jack McCarthy and current town school board member Martha Casavant-Reis. Both were elected for three years.
Fairfield will be represented by Mike Malone and Mike L’Esperance, both members of the current Fairfield School Board.
St. Albans City will be represented by two members of the city school board, Jim Farr and Denise Smith, and two members of the Bellows Free Academy board, Nilda Gonnella-French and Al Corey.
Yesterday’s vote almost didn’t happen. Five members of the nine-member study committee initially voted not to send the proposed merger before voters. However, Tayt Brooks, a representative of St. Albans City, subsequently changed his vote during a special weekend meeting of the study panel, saying his ‘nay’ had not been representative of the views of the city school board as a whole.
The study committee also faced public pressure to bring the measure before voters with residents and leaders from all three communities urging the board to do so, including members of the St. Albans City Council and St. Albans Town Selectboard.