Mergers leading to improved choices and options, greater affordability
Rebecca Holcombe, Secretary of Education
When the towns of Bethel, Rochester and Royalton started to talk about how to move forward under Act 46, one of the first things they did was ask students what they wanted for their high school experience. The answer was loud and clear: more peers, greater depth and breadth of academic opportunities, and more extracurricular activities. Community members wanted the same, but they also worried about affordability.
On April 11, 2017, voters in these three towns will act on a proposal that could give students just that. After a long process of community conversations, the school districts of Rochester, Bethel and Royalton propose to invest in the future of their communities by unifying in a larger, more robust high school, a shared middle school and an outdoor education and environmental program in Rochester focused on preparing students for careers in technical and professional fields. And, they propose to save about $600 thousand dollars in their first year and every year moving forward as a unified system.
These towns have found a way to keep their schools at the heart of their community while providing a deeper and richer and more equitable set of opportunities for their students in a unified district.
Partnering was a necessity. In these three towns, the average daily membership has been steadily declining since the 1990s. Bethel’s student average daily membership declined 33 percent between 1997 and 2015. In Royalton that decline was 40 percent, and in Rochester, 52 percent in the same time period. These communities care deeply about their schools and their children and their towns. And, with so many fewer children, all three schools were struggling to stay innovative and to provide what they felt their children deserved. These changing demographics forced some hard choices about how to invest in a better, more stable future for their communities.
To address their shrinking student population, community members had to have hard conversations about how to provide high-quality, equitable education in their rural communities.