Great Brook saved, budget approved

Middle school closure backed by 37 percent

  • Pete Burwen, left, stands outside the Antrim Town Hall campaigning to save Great Brook School with his son, Sean, right, and Nicholas Drummond, middle, who are both fifth graders at GBS.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)
  • Community members spent the day outside urging people to vote 'No' on School District Warrant Article 8.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)
  • Nicholas Drummond, left, and Sean Burwen, both 10-year-olds and fifth graders at Great Brook, stand outside of the Antrim Town Hall Tuesday campaigning to save their middle school.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)
  • Community members spent the day outside urging people to vote 'No' on School District Warrant Article 8.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Brandon Lawrence)
  • Great Brook School students outside the polls in Hancock on Tuesday afternoon<br/><br/>. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Candidates did a little last-minute campaigning at the polls in Temple on Tuesday. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Candidates did a little last-minute campaigning at the polls in Temple on Tuesday. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Gail Cromwell, who ran unopposed for the open Temple Select Board seat this year, and Temple Select Board member John Kieley campaigned in favor of Article 8 to close Great Brook School, outside the Temple polls  Tuesday. <br/><br/> <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Sarah Dunning of Bennington shows supports for Great Brook School with her children outside Pierce Elementary School in Bennington on Tuesday.

ConVal School District voters on Tuesday rejected a petition article that would have closed Great Brook School. The article failed by a wide margin, with 1,622 voters in favor to 2,819 opposed.

Meanwhile, a second article related to possible school closings, which was endorsed by the ConVal School Board, received a majority vote but fell well short of the 2∕3 margin of approval required to amend the district’s Articles of Agreement.

Great Brook to stay open

The proposal to have just one middle school, located in Peterborough, was sponsored by former School Board representative Gail Cromwell of Temple and Mark Fernald of Sharon. It would also have amended the Articles of Agreement and required a 2∕3 margin. It drew considerable opposition at the district’s Deliberative Session in February, where a number of Great Brook students held signs asking voters to save their school. On Tuesday, the only towns where the proposal garnered a majority were Temple, Sharon and Greenfield.

Fernald said Wednesday that he wasn’t surprised that the petition failed.

“I never thought it would pass. Two-thirds is a difficult number to reach, we know that from past experience,” he said. “My goal was to start a conversation on consolidation. It will be interesting to see what happens next. Maybe the mood will be that 11 schools are expensive, but we should spend the money.”

In Antrim, the home of Great Brook School, 57 voters were in favor of the petition and 808 against it, just a 7 percent approval rate. The other three towns that send students to Great Brook were also solidly against the proposal, which failed by votes of 79 to 331 in Bennington, 118 to 347 in Francestown and 169 to 344 in Hancock.

Fernald said he was glad to see the district’s budget pass, but was surprised that sizeable numbers of voters, including many in the four towns that send students to Great Brook, were opposed to the budget but were unwilling to support the effort to close a middle school, which he said would have generated considerable savings.

“There are signs that a number of people in district think the budget is too high, but they aren’t willing to close Great Brook School,” Fernald said. “I’m not sure how else we cut the budget without cutting programs.”

Fernald said voters will be faced with financial challenges in upcoming elections.

“People came out supporting two middle schools on the whole and supporting the budget,” he said. “I hope people continue to come out in the future, supporting both the budget and supporting the teachers, when it’s time for a new contract.”

Cromwell could not be reached for comment on the petition on Wednesday.

School Board plan rejected

The warrant article recommended by the School Board would have set up a 10-step procedure for the board to study closing a school if it was operating well below capacity. The article got 58 percent approval district-wide, partly due to a 73 percent favorable vote in Peterborough, the district’s largest town. It fell below the 2∕3 number in each of the other eight towns.

When it was presented to voters at the Deliberative Session, the article called for the final vote on any school closing to be through a 2∕3 vote of the School Board. It was amended at the Deliberative Session so that any school closing would ultimately have needed a 2∕3 margin of approval from the district’s voters.

George Kidd, the ConVal School Board representative from Hancock who chaired the District Model Study Committee that developed the proposal, said he was disappointed that it failed, but he was hoping it would be a good first step toward addressing concerns about declining enrollment.

“I always had confidence that voters would understand that ConVal’s issues were structural and there isn’t a single solution,” Kidd said. “It’s an expensive district to operate and a very inefficient district to operate. When this began, no one thought a plan to look at closing schools would ever get a majority vote.”

Kidd said he was pleased that the Fernald-Cromwell proposal had been rejected.

“Hopefully, we are now rid of deflectors that refuse to recognize the entirety of the problem,” he said. “It’s not just a single school issue, or a budget issue.”

Kidd, who is leaving the ConVal board, said the process spelled out in the proposal could be a basis for future recommendations to voters.

“I would hope the board would adopt the structure that appears in the amendment and that the new superintendent and the new board will continue to look at these issues and take steps to resolve them, as difficult and emotional as those steps might be.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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