The idea of combining two small schools across the Massachusetts-Vermont border advanced Monday, but not before a heated debate.
Residents of Stamford, Vt., accepted a proposal to merge their educational interests with the Massachusetts town of Clarksburg.
It now falls to residents of Clarksburg to say whether they, too, wish to form a combined elementary district. When it gathers Wednesday, Clarksburg's Select Board is expected to set a date for a special town meeting at which its residents would be asked the same question.
If both towns agree to merge, further approvals are needed, from both states and the federal government.
The Clarksburg board meets at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Ketchum Memorial Room in Town Hall at 111 River Road.
Stamford's vote Monday asked residents to support or reject a plan to fully combine classes at the schools, which lie within four miles of each other. The option calls for use of the Stamford School to provide prekindergarten through grade 2 classes. Under the proposal that faced Vermont voters, the Clarksburg school would house grades 3 through 8.
Cindy Lamore, chair of the Stamford School Committee, said the question went to a paper ballot, where it passed 58-29, with one blank.
Though she had predicted the vote could be quick, the session lasted several hours. "Lots of very good questions," she said.
The meeting opted for paper ballots to allow Stamford residents to vote confidentially. "It just seemed like there were lots of people trying to convince others not to vote for this," she said.
If the idea also passes muster in Clarksburg, educators will work to obtain financial information and commitments from the two states, a development that would provide a fuller picture of what a merger would mean to local school budgets.
"We get the states to put everything in black and white," Lamore said. "Everybody wants to know the meat and potatoes behind this."
Monday's vote came after months of research and public discussion on both sides of the border.
In late April, a Boston consulting firm outlined findings based on months of study that included focus groups of residents in both communities.
The towns shared the cost of a feasibility study conducted by Public Consulting Group.
Lamore said that a Connecticut town has been monitoring the progress of the proposal, since it is considering combining schools with a town in Massachusetts.
"This is ground-breaking and a lot of eyes are on us," Lamore said.
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.