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Fete tempered by talk of withdrawal

ConVal cut the ribbon on its gleaming new gymnasium Friday afternoon, and it was a party atmosphere that spoke to the district’s decision to forge ahead and do the right thing. In 2010, that construction was rejected — barely. Yet the powers that be came back with a plan that was ultimately approved by voters. And today, the district’s high school has a gym that complies with federal disability laws, and one that can serve as central hub for the campus.

But the feel-good story that was intended for the grand opening was somewhat tempered by news out of Temple earlier last week. The town, which has been going in a different direction than much of the district in recent years, has decided to start exploring the path to withdrawal from the ConVal School District. It doesn’t mean Temple is leaving the district, only that it will examine all its options.

The irony shouldn’t be lost that ConVal’s new gym stands in many ways as a symbol of the disconnect between most of ConVal’s towns and the voters and town officials in Temple. To understand why that may be the case, we have to rewind to the run-up to the 2010 voting. ConVal’s School Board was pushing for a major renovation to the gymnasium, one that would make it compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and one that would make for a more functional high school. The board needed 60 percent approval from district voters to pass the then-$5 million bond.

But on voting day in March 2010, then-Temple School Board representative Gail Cromwell, who was a vocal opponent of the plan to commit money to the project, went against the board’s wishes and actively campaigned against the bond’s approval. ConVal never got to 60 percent. Instead, they fell 23 votes shy, and from the board’s perspective, the blame fell to Cromwell. While most of the district’s nine town’s easily passed the measure, only a third of voters in Temple gave it their support. The board was so adamantly opposed to Cromwell’s push against the bond that it decided to publicly scold her with a symbolic but mostly toothless censure. Many, including this newspaper, said it was within her rights to stand her ground, and advise her constituents — even if it went against the will of the board. The battle earned Cromwell a statewide First Amendment award delivered by Bill O’Reilly himself, and it served to deepen the divide between the School Board and the town of Temple.

Two years later, voters passed a smaller bond — this time $4 million — by just six votes. Temple again led the way in ‘No’ votes, though Bennington and Greenfield also voted against the measure.

Fast forward again to Friday’s celebration, and it’s easy to see why some may not be dancing.

Those surprised by Temple’s move to explore other options may not have seen the writing on the wall. Many, though, have been hearing the drumbeat get louder over the past two years. And now that Cromwell has been elected as a Select Board member in Temple, the town has newfound momentum to explore a new direction.

While it’s too early to tell where this will lead (many are saying it will go nowhere, because other options may be no better, from Temple’s perspective), the district and the town better either find some common ground, or find a way to live without each other. Because having a town pushing so strongly in a different direction isn’t good for the district as a whole or for the students it serves.

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