Home News and Features School District Merger Discussion Likely to Resume 

School District Merger Discussion Likely to Resume 

Photo by John Lazenby.
Amid infrastructure, flooding, and enrollment challenges, local school boards are considering taking steps toward a formal study of a merger between Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools and the neighboring Washington Central Unified Union School District. 

During the June 19 school board meeting at Montpelier High School, Chairperson Jim Murphy told fellow board members he and Superintendent Libby Bonesteel had recently met with Washington Central leaders. They discussed a future joint board meeting to explore a study of merging the districts, a topic that has come up periodically over the years.

“Right now, there’s a lot of speculation and guesswork,” Murphy said. “Both boards would then have to approve entering the process.

“There is not a magic wand that is going to wave and make this merger happen,” he added.

In their conversation with Washington Central Superintendent Meagan Roy, her incoming replacement Steven Dellinger-Pate, and Washington Central Board Chair Flor Diaz Smith, officials discussed holding a joint board session to plan a study of various merger scenarios, according to Murphy. A study would likely require paid consultants such as architects and tax experts, a cost the two districts could share, Murphy said. 

Problem Sets

Both school districts face challenges that a merger might help them address. Consultants recently informed the Montpelier board of serious infrastructure problems with the district’s school buildings, including Montpelier High School’s flood vulnerability. [Link to our story] Neighboring Washington Central is expecting a substantial drop in student enrollment in the next few years, and Montpelier Roxbury a smaller drop, according to Murphy.

Washington Central is also weighing school reconfiguration. 

Among many unanswered questions about a merger, Murphy said, are whether it would affect only the two districts’ high schools or additional schools too, how various buildings might be used, economies of scale, administrative overhead, and tax implications.

He estimated that a study would take at least a school year. Community discussions would take another one to two years, he said, followed by a vote and then perhaps a year of preparation before a move would take place.

Jill Remick, the board’s parliamentarian, told fellow board members this next step was definitely worthwhile. 

“There’s so many reasons why we need to have that conversation,” she said. “The flashing light to me right now was the report that we got recently from the consultant about the future of this particular building (MHS) in the floodplain.”

While Murphy told the board that a full merger is on the table, he added that there could be ways to “cooperate in a way that’s scaled up.” 

Elementary and middle schools might not necessarily close. “It could happen with many of the schools operating close to or the same way they do now,” he said.

The two school districts already allow some students to attend schools in each other’s districts in an exchange, and students also participate in some clubs and teams at each other’s schools, Murphy pointed out.

Technical Considerations

Another factor the school boards are considering is the Central Vermont Career Center, which teaches students in-demand skills in fields such as the building trades, automotive repair, and plumbing and heating. 

Since the 2022–2023 school year, the Career Center has operated as its own independent school district. It is housed in the same building as Barre’s Spaulding High School but is outgrowing the space and is discussing either a new standalone facility or one co-located on the U-32 Middle and High School campus. 

The Career Center’s board is also discussing expanding its enrollment capacity, offering training in new fields such as animal science and advanced manufacturing, and going to a full-day program. Consultants have found seven promising sites for a new building and recently told the board they hope to finish site selection by September. A new, 500-student, 150,000 square-foot career center would cost $145 to $155 million in 2026 dollars, they estimated.

Expanding the CVCC would reduce enrollment among sending schools such as MHS and U-32, however. With an aim toward discussing the situation, the CVCC’s board recently contacted these sending regions’ school boards. One possibility: creating a Central Vermont High School. 

On June 11, CVCC board chair Alice Farrell sent sending districts a letter on the board’s behalf that “invite[d] continued collaboration on the best next steps for the students of Central Vermont.” 

“Whatever process CVCC goes through is going to impact everybody else,” said Scott Lewins, who serves on both the MRPS and CVCC boards. “We’re all neighbors, we’re having similar conversations, our decisions are going to impact each other. Let’s have a conversation together.” 

“We should all keep talking,” Remick added. “Because whatever we all do will influence each other for the next 30 years.”