Voters in four rural towns--three in Vermont and one in New Hampshire--have decided to join forces and create what is believed to be the nation’s first K-12 public school district to cross state lines.
The new Rivendell school district, which is expected to serve about 600 students, was proposed as a way to save money and to deal with declining enrollments. More than 70 percent of the voters in all four towns approved the district in a special election Oct. 13.
“We are designing [the district] from scratch,” said Sheila Moran, the principal of the Orford, N.H., district, one of the four that will be part of the new system. “This is an exciting thing from an educator’s point of view.”
But before the district’s debut in September 2000, several issues must be ironed out: One of the biggest is likely to be figuring out what the administrative structure will look like when the existing districts are consolidated.
In addition, school leaders will have to deal with policy issues, such as making sure that curriculum guidelines and assessment goals are met for each state. And then there are the practical details, such as how to transport students from one place to the next.
One of the big concerns in any district consolidation is that educators often don’t pay enough attention to the impact on students’ lives, said Paul Nachtigal, the co-director of the Annenberg Rural Challenge. That national program is part of a $500 million commitment to public education launched in 1993 by philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg.
“Rural schools really need to be connected with the local community,” Mr. Nachtigal said. “Consolidation can often bring about the loss of community involvement and attachment.”
Plans for the Rivendell district were launched last year, mainly to help all four districts become more cost-effective. The districts were facing economic problems, primarily in dealing with grades 7-12.
Among other factors, space at the junior high and high school level was tight, and administrators felt pressure to cut K-6 programs to offset rising costs for high school and special education programs.
The three Vermont towns--Fairlee, West Fairlee, and Vershire-- currently pay tuition to send their high school students to other area schools. The West Fairlee district has a K-6 school with 58 students and spends more than $350,000 a year--about half the district’s budget--to send about 55 high school students to another district, according to Principal Daniel Poor.
In Orford, on the New Hampshire side of the border, consolidation has become a matter of survival for the high school and the town. The K-12 district is facing declining enrollments in its high school, and many fear that if the high school dissolves, the town will follow, Ms. Moran said.
“The people here wanted to keep the town and the high school intact,” Ms. Moran explained. “This is a win-win situation. The new district will reduce costs for all of the towns.”