There’s been a lot of focus on the school districts that are fighting forced mergers, and what they would do about passing a budget this year.
But even in the districts that have successfully merged, Act 46 churned up some strong emotions on Town Meeting Day.
Jamaica voters approved a merger back in 2017. But so far being a tiny school in a larger district hasn’t been too good for the town.
Judy Flowers has lived in Jamaica for 35 years and she came out to Tuesday’s school district meeting with some questions.
“Why is it that it seems that Jamaica seems to be paying the biggest price for this coming together?” Flower asked the Jamaica School Board. “I have heard a lot of strong feelings that we have really been at some level, suckered into this.”
As part of a newly consolidated district, families were allowed to send their kids to one of the other schools next year. As a result, Jamaica is losing some students.
The new district is also sending all of the six graders to the middle school. When school starts next year Jamaica will only have about 35 students, or half the number it has this year.
Jamaica is not yet closing its school. But it was pretty clear to most of the people attending the meeting that something is changing.
School board member Stephanie Amyot said Act 46 was never supposed to take care of all of the challenges Vermont’s shifting demographics are causing.
“We tried to say all along that there was no guarantee that Jamaica would stay open,” Amyot said. “I think we were really honest about that all along and, it’s sad seeing it get so small so fast, this coming year. I think people had hopes that, you know, this wouldn’t happen, but it seemed to be a possibility all along.”
To deal with the plunging student count, Jamaica Elementary School is losing a teacher next year and the principal position is being reduced to half time.
Laura Molinari lives in Jamaica, and is a para-educator at the school. She says the staff has as many questions as residents.
“I don’t know if we’ll have jobs,” she said. “I don’t know if there’s any way you can sort of advocate for the people who currently work there, from our custodial people, to our food service people, to our paras, to our classroom teachers, to our administrative assistant. You know, we don’t have a big town and this is one place some of us work. So are we just going to wait to see where we fall? I guess there’s no sort of security for any of us.”
As part of the articles of agreement of the new district, only the people of Jamaica can close the school.
There was a lot of anger and frustration at the meeting, but also plenty of support for the Jamaica school representatives to keep fighting.
Even though the merger vote passed two years ago, the new board has been slowly taking over and the Jamaica board officially dissolves on June 30th.
So whether the school closes or not, on July 1 the Jamaica Elementary School officially becomes part of the West River Modified Union Education District.
And Jamaica will be represented by two people on an eleven-member board.
As town moderator Greg Joly got to the end of the meeting, he told the body that Jamaica has been educating its students since 1791.
And with that, he headed toward adjournment.
“Are there other issues that people want to speak to here during the school….actually the last Jamaica School District Meeting,” Joly said. “I hate saying that. I feel it’s a detriment to the town meeting that we’re going to lose discussions on the school and its budget. But I just want to recognize the passing of some history."