EAST MONTPELIER — The transition from a six-school supervisory union to a five-town school district cleared another hurdle this week as voters in Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Middlesex and Worcester ready to collectively elect a new school board to run the Washington Central Unified Union School District.
In what will be a first-of-its kind special election, polls will be open in all five Washington Central communities on Tuesday.
Polling hours vary slightly from community to community. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Calais, East Montpelier and Middlesex, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Berlin and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Worcester.
In East Montpelier, voting will occur at the local elementary school, while voters in Berlin, Calais, Middlesex and Worcester will all cast ballots at their respective town offices.
Though two representatives will be elected from each community, they will be chosen by voters from all five towns.
The shift to district-wide elections shouldn’t matter much on Tuesday, with candidates for nine of the 10 seats running unopposed. The only contested race involves one of Calais’ two seats and pits Christopher Cadorette against Dorothy Naylor.
Cadorette and Naylor are both members of the Calais School Board elected by voters in Calais. Whoever prevails on Tuesday will do so based on the combined results of voting in Calais and the other district towns.
The board’s election will occur days after the board, which had been handling the transition as part of one of several state-ordered mergers, met for the last time.
The transitional board concluded its work Wednesday by recommending a slate of proposed amendments to the articles of agreement for the soon-to-be-elected school board.
One of those amendments — if blessed by the board and ultimately approved by voters — would expand the new board from 10 to 15 members while retaining the process of “at-large” elections as a way of avoiding proportional representation. Under that principle, larger towns — like Berlin and East Montpelier — are entitled more board seats than smaller communities, like Calais and Worcester. Allowing all towns to vote on representatives from all communities is an acceptable way to sidestep that constitutional requirement.
The most notable of the other amendments would require the town in which a school is located to separately approve its closure in the event it is approved by the school board. The transitional board and a study committee before it wrestled with that article for months, with some arguing it was an excessive protection and a district-wide vote should suffice and others insisting voters most affected by such a proposal should have have the opportunity to veto it.
The board recently split on a modified proposal that would have required any future school closure proposal to be approved in successive years by votes in the community where the school is located.
Five members of the transitional board are running unopposed for seats on the new board and a sixth — Naylor — could also be elected Tuesday. Those members have expressed differing opinions on the school closure question.
Once elected, the new board will have to act swiftly to warn a June 25 vote on the recently recommended budget for the new district and decide whether to include a vote on the amendments to the articles of agreement at that time.
Some have argued there is no urgency to scheduling a vote on amendments that have been discussed at length by a committee but never presented to the public. They have questioned the wisdom of presenting a package of changes on a day when turnout is expected to be low.
Others maintain the changes are important and should be presented to voters before — not after — the new pre-K-12 district is scheduled to be launched on July 1.
The board elected next Tuesday may make that decision when it meets for the first time next Wednesday.