The fate of Concord High School was on a ballot — again — on Tuesday. Last April voters decided to end the secondary program and keep only kindergarten through eighth grade. But a petition drive forced yet another vote in a deeply divided town.
To overturn the April election, residents who want to keep Concord High School open will have to win by at least 191 votes. That won’t be easy, because closing grades 9-12 means students can choose other schools at state expense — an option many parents say they want. But Karen Call, a Concord School Board member and parent of a high school senior, says families who want a private school should pay for it themselves and allow Concord students to graduate from the public school they have chosen for generations.
“And I feel bad that the kids have to go through this every year. This is a good school. I’m an alumna from here. I graduated in ’92,” Call said as she waited out the election results in a tent across from Town Hall.
Even though the principal and some teachers have already resigned, Call says there is time to fill vacancies by next September, if the “Save Our School” campaign prevails at the ballot box. And since the town will still have to maintain an elementary and middle school while paying tuition for high schoolers going elsewhere she doubts closure will save tax dollars. Call says her son has been able to supplement the Concord curriculum with secondary and college courses online.
But Harold Lunnie, who favors closing the high school, says it’s too small to offer everything his children need, and wishes he had been able to choose St. Johnsbury when he was their age.
“I never realized the opportunity I could have gotten if I had gone somewhere else," he said last April.
Back then, voters evidently agreed, by a comfortable margin. But school supporters say that “Yes” vote has brought more allies into the fray, with signs all along Route 2 urging voters to say “No” to closure. This is at least the tenth election on this rancorous issue over the past 12 years. Some voters leaving the polls were not disclosing the way they voted this time, saying they didn’t want to deepen a rift already creating tension in town.
Update 6/17/15 Voters have once again chosen to close the high school, by fewer than 45 votes. When the tally was read by the town clerk, police had to calm an angry crowd of school supporters.