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Westminster West School: How small is too small?

WESTMINSTER WEST—The Westminster West School is one of the smallest in the state.It has one full-time teacher, and there are only 18 students enrolled at the school this year. Its projected enrollment for the 2011-12 school year is 14.Westminster’s other elementary school, Center School, has 200 students and can easily accommodate the Westminster West kids.School officials have said that the Westminster West School needs a minimum of 30 students to be cost-effective.Economic sense should dictate that the town close the Westminster West School. But the decision to open or close a school goes beyond mere economics. Parents say that the small student-to-teacher ratio provides a better learning environment.And there is the memory of Claire Oglesby, who died in 2009 and taught more than three decades at the school. She is revered by her former students and fellow educators for the magic she created there, including one of her former pupils, Gov. Peter Shumlin, who acknowledged her influence on him in his inaugural address.Estimates of how much money would be saved annually by closing the school range from as low as $30,000 to as high as $80,000. These figure do not include any money the town might get from selling the school building.Even if the Westminster West School were to close, school officials say that what it costs to run it amounts to less than 5 percent of the school budget and would have little affect on the tax rate.Last fall, a drive began to have the school’s fate decided upon at this year’s Town Meeting. It ultimately failed last month when the Selectboard decided not to put the question on the warrant.Even if the question were put to voters, any decision involving school closure is ultimately for the school board to decide. Legally, residents can approve or reject a budget, but all other educational matters are under the sole purview of school boards.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #89 (Wednesday, February 23, 2011).

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