WINDHAM—The latest chapter in an emotional election over whether the smallest elementary school in Vermont should stay open ended with a murky outcome and a potential revote.
By a 137–135 vote in a special election on Sept. 8, voters approved an article to close Windham Elementary School at the end of the 2021–22 school year.
However, an article to authorize the town School Board to pay for tuition for students who want to enroll at a state-approved independent school was rejected, 146–121, with five blank or spoiled ballots.
Of the 362 registered voters in Windham, 272 cast ballots in the special election, according to Windham Town Clerk Michael McLaine. The outcome was close enough to merit a recount on Sept. 11, which confirmed the tallies.
Supporters of closing the school say they wanted to give their children more education opportunities at neighboring schools, while opponents say the tiny school — only 16 students in kindergarten through grade 6 are enrolled this year — was a draw for families moving into town.
The closeness of the school closure vote was not a surprise to Carolyn Partridge, a vice-chair on the school board and a state representative. But she told The Commons that she knew of at least three voters who marked the ballots incorrectly, thinking that they were voting to keep the school open.
She also said that one early ballot was left in the town office drop box after hours before the voting deadline that apparently was not counted.
Those factors, she said, could have changed the outcome and will likely lead to another vote on the fate of Windham Elementary School.
But if there is a successful petition for a revote, it will have to be done quickly, Partridge said, “because we’re about to start working on next year’s school budget.”
Any room for Windham students?
However, the biggest issue seems to be is whether there is any room at neighboring schools to accept Windham’s students.
The influx of new families to ski resort towns such as Dover, Winhall, and Londonderry prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic has ballooned enrollments at their respective elementary schools.
Windham is part of the Windham Central Supervisory Union and the West River Education District, and the town sends its older students to Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School in Townshend.
Likely out-of-town destinations for Windham’s younger students would include Townshend Elementary School, Flood Brook School in Londonderry, and The Mountain School at Winhall, an independent K-8 school in Bondville.
But Partridge said the rejection of the second article means the town would not pick up the tab for tuition for The Mountain School, nor for any other independent school.
The town will pay tuition to send children to public schools, but Partridge said it is not clear whether there is room at Townshend Elementary or Flood Brook schools for the Windham students in the 2022–23 school year.
“If our school closes, there is no guarantee that they have the capacity to take our students,” she said.