March 21, 2018
Alliance Presents Alternative Governance Structures Presentation Strategies Conference
Vermont School Board members and Study Committees from across the state went to the Montpelier High School to attend a conference designed to help them strategize how best to present their Alternative Governance proposals to state officials.The Conference was hosted by The Alliance of Vermont School Board Members.
David Clark, a school board member from Westminster, Vermont explained, "A significant percentage of Vermont school districts have discovered that there are few economic savings generated by consolidation and that their communities want to preserve local governance. Act 46 provides for alternatives to consolidation, but it is up to districts to develop persuasive proposals to either preserve or modify their governance, but they also have to go before a committee of state officials and convince them to support these alternatives. Vermont School Boards and Study Committees need to prepare if they want to be successful."
Brent Abare from Groton, Vermont said, " My head is exploding from all the information we received. It was incredibly useful." Sue Meggiolaro of Guilford agreed. "It was incredibly useful to better understand both the statutes, to review the priorities of state officials and gain some insight as to the expectations of the people we will be talking to in our conversations with state officials."
The morning session was led by lawyers David F. Kelley and Mark D Oettinger, the former counsel to the Department of Education. Kelley, a former School Board member from Hazen, stressed that board members need to be thoroughly prepared.
"The meetings you have with state officials may be structured as conversations and presented as informal, but they are still part of the negotiation process and they are legally significant," Kelley said. Among his suggestions was that representatives record their discussions, and that if a majority of board members planned to attend, that the sessions be formally warned. He also suggested that Board members do whatever they can prior to their meetings to enhance both the quality of their support data and highlight the level of community and political support for their proposals. Kelley noted that the successful Marlboro proposal was 358 pages long and the documentation by the North Country Supervisory Union ran several volumes. "This is a political process and a lot may depend on who well you have a handle on your data and plan." He added, "Never hesitate to supplement your material."
Oettinger agreed. "The people you will speak to have your proposal and will have a wealth of statistics at their disposal, but they don't have your analysis. They don't necessarily know how dependent your community is on the presence of your local primary school. They don't necessarily understand the experiences of parents and students in rural communities. They don't necessarily know what you know what you do about your sixth-grade girls on free and reduced lunch or the different levels of student performance based on how far away they are from your school. They don't necessarily appreciate the value of small schools for helping disadvantaged communities." Oettinger said, that if school districts don't have access to the information they need to make their case, they should ask. "Many school reports take only a minute or two to run." He emphasized the need to make sure that boards requesting information know specifically what they are looking for and in what form. Both Oettinger and Kelley said that for many districts consulting with an educational statistician would be more useful than retaining a lawyer. "The law says that authorities can not place more stringent requirements on School Boards proposing alternative governance than those agreeing to mergers, but you don't want to fall back on that."
The afternoon session focused on the experiences of those boards who have already made presentations. Jay Denault of Franklin, the former chair of the Mississquoi Valley Union District and Franklin Northwest Supervisory Union boards, reviewed his committee's experiences.
Denault cautioned attendees, "Do not say, 'we are good as we are.' Don't recite any bad experience you may have had trying to merge. Don't insist you don't have any realistic alternatives. Accentuate the positive."
In reviewing his committee's discussions he said, "It is easy to get distracted during the flow of the conversation. It is important that you make sure to make your case." Denault emphasized that his community's presentation focused on the fact that alternative governance would better meet the goals of containing costs and supporting student achievement and they were at pains to connect key elements of their plan to specific state and federal statutes or to specific Act 46 goals. He said that it was easy to go over the allotted time reserved for the discussions and that presenters should be prepared to be concise and ready to cover the high points of your plans quickly.
Kelley agreed. "Make sure you have the who, what, where, and when of your proposal at your fingertips. The state representatives have a set of questions they are sending you. Be sure you are ready to show your proposed plan and governance structure will do a better job of them."
Scott Thompson of Calais reviewed his committee's experiences with state officials. He said that the conversations they had "were freewheeling and reasonably relaxed." Thompson said that while officials emphasized that they were open-minded, "The message was, 'Convince us.'" According to Thompson, the state officials were "well briefed," and were particularly focused on efficiency studies and the gaps between "statements of intentions" in action plans and actual performance. Denault said that presenters will need to explain why, "If you are going to achieve an education goal with your current governance, you haven't done so already." According to Thompson, "They are going to want to discuss the difference between your statements of intention and your past performance." Thompson said, "If you need to, respond that you will have that information and get back to them."
Thompson thought that their presentation was helped by the getting area boards and local representatives to go on the record as supporting their alternative governance proposal. “We got boards to go on the record... and had a letter from state representatives from our towns endorse our plan.”
Both Oettinger and Kelley agreed that the political aspects of the process shouldn't be ignored. "If your town is geographically isolated, or your students live far away from the local high school, have your select board and your state representatives go on the record and say so. They suggested getting letters and other evidence of support from local state representatives. "They need to know how important your proposal is to your community, and that their active support is expected."
All the presenters said it was important to recognize the expertise of panel they would encounter in their discussions.
Kelley said, "Like any other negotiating situation, it is important to respect the people on the other side of the table and to avoid being confrontational ."
"These people are all very smart," said Oettinger." [AOE Secretary] Rebecca Holcombe has extensive experience in the field, she has been directly involved with teacher training and she is going to be focused on outcomes as well as governance. Education Finance Manager Brad James is the state's leading expert on educational finance. Donna Russo-Savage is going to be focused on the law. It's important to understand that she penned much of the legislation that is guiding this process."
In the follow-up question and answer period, panelists were asked why there was such pressure from the state to consolidate schools and school districts. Kelley suggested that "consolidation makes sense in some areas but not others," and suggested that Vermont's experience looked to be similar to that of Maine and West Virginia. "In Maine, the southern, more urban and interconnected communities consolidated but there were no real savings, and in the isolated towns of the North there was real resistance to the idea because of a lot of good reasons- distances, isolation and the importance of local schools to the communities. West Virginia likewise found out that savings were non-existent and that some costs actually went up." Kelley suggested that Vermont was following a similar pattern.
Other questions concerned what schools could do generate efficiencies, short of consolidating governance, such as sharing teachers or other resources. "They can, with certain restrictions. Cooperative agreements are provided for by state law."
They were asked what districts could do to prevent individual school districts from being forcibly reassigned to other districts or new Supervisory Unions, and how to make Supervisory Union budgets more transparent to voters. Alliance Steering Committee member, Brattleboro's David Schoales said that they would continue to collect questions and post answers on the AVBM website.
Don McLean from Guilford summed up. saying, "It was a long way to travel, and I have been to a lot of conferences over the years, but this one was really different, really substantive with a lot of really smart people focused on trying to help."
About the Alliance:
The Alliance of Vermont School Board Members (AVSBM) is a coalition of current and former School Board members from all corners of the state, dedicated to supporting the work of School Boards and supporting their efforts to provide quality educational services and locally responsive, democratic local governance. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Downloadable Presentation Materials & Guidelines
Barnard's AGS proposal to the AOE on March 23
Contact David Schoales (email@example.com)
AVSBM Conference March 17
We are writing to let you know that our Alternative Governance Structures (A.G.S.) forum has been re-scheduled for Saturday, March 17 at Montpelier High School from 10-2. Lunch will be available at the school.
Please e-email us if you plan to attend.
As you are probably aware, we have lined up two panels to discuss both the legal ramifications of the Act 46 A.G.S proposals, as well as the practical steps necessary to make successful application to the State
Board of Education for your specific school district based on the experience of districts which have already made successful applications.
Please share with board members and interested others.
The program looks like this:
10:00 AM Meet and Convene
10:30 AM Legal Panel, Michael Duane Moderator:
Discuss the legal ramifications of Act 46
Panelists: David Kelley and Mark Oettinger, attorneys
12:00 PM Lunch (available at the school). Meet and trade talking points
12:30 PM Application Process and Recommendations Panel
Discuss the actual presentation before the Board Of Ed, and provide
support for Districts making this presentation.
Panelists: Suzanne Hull Parent, Enosburg; Cristina Suarez,
Brief presentation by each panelist, then time for discussion back and forth
and Q and A.
Each of these panelists has, or will have, presented their AGS proposal to the State and will share their experience with us.
ASSOCIATION OF VERMONT SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS
Jack Bryar, Grafton
David Clark, Westminster
David Schoales, Brattleboro
“What we see emerging is a notion of democracy that is being steadily stripped of its popular component — democracy without a demos,”
Peter Mair, 2006
Contact David Schoales (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Jack Bryar (email@example.com)
New date for Equity and Efficiency: Alternatives to Consolidation Under Act 46 Conference
The Alliance of Vermont School Board Members, (AVSBM) a statewide association of elected and former school board members and supporters, announced that the planned Conference of School Boards and SUs affected by Act 46 that was originally scheduled to take place on February 24, is being postponed until March 17, 2018. The meeting will take place at the Montpelier High School beginning at 10 am.
AVSBM Coordinator Jack Bryar said, “The flu has been a real factor in our decision. We have had members and presenters affected. However, in some ways, a later date works better. We want to make sure that newly elected Board members coming on board after Town Meeting get invitations and join in the discussions. The decisions being made at the state level about local governance will top the agenda of a large percentage of the elected school board members in the state.”
Roughly a third of Vermont school systems either have or anticipate petitioning state government officials to approve these “AGS” proposals in preference to forced consolidation under Vermont’s Act 46. The fate of these proposals is uncertain. Much of the debate about “Alternative Governance” has focused less on the quality or efficiency of different local governance models and instead have centered around how to craft proposals that will be accepted by state authorities.
While a handful of AGS proposals have already been accepted by state officials, many others are pending. Local school board leaders who have been approved caution other boards that crafting even the best-designed proposal is only the beginning of the approval process.
The conference will include a pair of panels. One will be focused on legal and technical issues that AGS applicants may encounter. A second will focus on understanding, and successfully negotiating with, the State Board and other Vermont state education officials. Panel members will include legal experts, school board members, administrators and government officials.
The conference organizers expect there will be a lively Q&A session afterwards.
David Clark, an AVSBM member and Chair of the Bellows Falls School Board said,
“School boards are in a difficult spot. There hasn’t been a lot of information provided to those communities who want to retain some measure of local control or who have developed unique proposals that would work for them but might look unusual to outside bureaucrats. No one is looking out for their interests, and we are going to try to fill in that gap.”
The conference hopes to attract:
• Boards Study Committees and community supporters from districts who have filed partial or complete AGS applications and who are concerned about how to ensure their proposals are accepted by state authorities.
• Study Committees and Boards still considering AGS as an option
• Districts still trying to figure out how to address their governance issues.
• Boards of SU’s being pressured to undergo additional restructuring
Alliance member David Schoales said,”Local schools and local boards deserve to have the information they need to be a full partner in the Act 46 process. The goal of our conference is to make sure that Board members hear about successful strategies used by other boards, and to know what legal and political resources may be available to help them get their proposals approved.”
According to Bryar, one of the advantages of the postponement is that it will give the Alliance a chance to add to the agenda.
Bryar said, “We are hearing that, in addition to schools facing uncertainty about their Alternative Governance proposals, there are a number of the consolidating small schools who are are being told that their good-faith efforts may not be enough. There is a real concern that smaller Supervisory Unions may face forcible dissolution and consolidation. It is causing additional disruption and demoralization with educational staff across the state looking over their shoulders and polishing their resumes. This is hardly a recipe for responsibly managing our educational system. School board members are telling us they are being blindsided by an issue that wasn’t even on their agenda and which could affect districts that thought they’d put their Act 46 issues behind them. We hope to be able to identify resources that schools can use to better understand and address this latest challenge”
Those interested in learning more about the Conference are urged to contact the Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to call 802-843-2735. In coming days the Alliance will post additional materials on this website.
About the Alliance
The Alliance of Vermont School Board Members is a growing statewide network of local school board members, former board members and community advocates dedicated to empowering local school boards so that they can continue to make Vermont public schools among the best in the United States. Contact them at email@example.com.
June 14, 2017
Announcing an Alliance of School Board Members
Grassroots Effort to Explore the Formation of a New Group
to Represent School Boards
A grassroots group of Vermont school board members and educational advocates are calling for the creation of an alliance to represent the views of the over 1,000 democratically elected school board members who have helped make our state’s public schools among the best in the country.
Members of school boards from across the state have proposed the formation of the Alliance of Vermont School Board Members, (avsbm.org) dedicated to ensuring that the voices of all school boards and communities in the state can be effectively heard when it comes to the formation of public policies. The Alliance proposes to conduct a series of regional forums to collect the views of the state's school boards and plans to query individual boards across the state about their needs and policy recommendations.
The alliance was generated by a statewide meeting in Westminster Vermont, in May and is formed by school board members who are frustrated with educational legislation and the role of the Vermont School Boards association in lobbying in support of that legislation. They expressed concern that the VSBA had walked away from its mission to represent and advocate for the state's school board members and this was making it increasingly difficult for Board members to successfully advocate for their community’s schools. They suggest that an Alliance of School Board Members is needed to provide that advocacy.
According to former VSBA board member David Schoales, “The bottom line is that the Vermont School Board Association (VSBA) has become a top-down organization promoting an agenda emanating from Montpelier. Schoales, currently a school board member from Brattleboro, said “VSBA has shown a lack of faith in its own membership. We don’t believe a state school board association should push so aggressively to eliminate scores of local schools boards, and suggest that the dedicated, voluntary services of hundreds of local school directors don’t add value to our school system. Even more disappointing is their claim that board members with years of experience are suddenly too incompetent to negotiate basic health care benefits.”
Jack Bryar, a school board member from Grafton, Vermont said, “I sympathize with our legislators and state officials who are trying to develop thoughtful educational legislation and responsible policies. They deserve to have a partner dedicated to relaying the wide variety of experiences and perspectives of those elected officials closest to our state’s schools around Vermont. They don’t have that partner today. It is one reason that so much of our recent educational legislation has been unnecessarily controversial.”
The organizers invite all local school board directors looking for a responsive and supportive membership organization to join us in building this Alliance via a series of regional meetings to be held across the state in the next several months. They encourage board members from across the state to come and articulate their needs and priorities.
In addition to these meetings, the Alliance expects to send out a series questionnaires to school board members to identify their most immediate concerns and to place before local school boards a series of questions for their input and advice.
The Alliance has published this website which includes a working schedule of proposed meetings, policy questions and other resources materials for local boards and board members.
They hope to hear from board members and local boards across the state and urge them to help create a democratic, responsive alliance of school board members that can advocate for the needs of our children, schools and our communities
Vermonters interested in attending these meetings or getting more information please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.