Where ? Bellows Falls Union High School,
406 High School Drive, Westminster, Vt
When ? Wednesday, November 28 @ 6:30 PM
On Wednesday, November 28 at 6:30, Alliance of Vermont School Board Members' attorney David Kelley of Craftsbury Common will be addressing a joint meeting of the school boards which comprise the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union. Atty. Kelley will be discussing the legal next-steps for schools and communities facing arbitrary forced mergers as the result of recent actions taken by the Vermont State Board of Education based on their interpretation of Act 46, the school consolidation legislation. This will be an opportunity for other school boards in the region, as well as concerned citizens, to find out how to support the schools in their communities as they struggle to maintain their independence.
Recently, on Thursday, November 15th, the WNESU school boards slated for forced merger, Athens, Grafton, and Westminster, were invited to resubmit evidence from their Alternative Governance Structure proposal to the State Board of Education during their meeting that day in Barre, and a similar invitation was also extended to the Elmore-Morrisville Unified Union Schools which the State Board of Education had previously announced its intention to force-merge with the Stowe School District. On November 15 the State Board reaffirmed its intent to force-merge Elmore-Morrisville and Stowe, and took no further action with regard to their proposed Athens-Grafton-Westminster forced merger.
In a subsequent Special Joint School Board meeting, also on November 15, the School Boards of Athens, Grafton and Westminster reaffirmed their intent to join with more than 20 other school districts across the State which are committed to challenging the legality of these forced mergers in the Courts. They will be joined on the 28th by the school board of the Town of Rockingham and also that of Bellows Falls Union High School, which together comprise the five districts of the Windham Northeast supervisory Union.
Bellows Falls Union High School is located at 406 High School Drive, just off U.S. Route 5 in the Town of Westminster, about one mile South of the Village of Bellows Falls, and about an hour and a half South of Montpelier.
From points North, take Interstate 89 South to Interstate 91 in White River Junction and continue South on Interstate 91 to Exit 6, Rockingham / Bellows Falls, continuing south on U.S. Rte. 5 approximately three miles to Bellows Falls, continuing through Bellows Falls Village, about one mile to High School Drive, which is well signed.
From the South, take Interstate 91 North to Exit 5, Westminster, and continue North on Rte. 5 approximately 1.5 miles to High School Drive.
For more information, please visit this website frequently.
Dan French of the State Board of Education listens to testimony
during a board meeting in Barre on Thursday. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger
The State Board of Education has moved to forcibly merge several more districts.
On Thursday, the board voted to merge school boards in Barre City and Barre Town; and six Lake Region Union High school districts; and upheld its previous vote on the merger of Stowe and Elmore-Morristown districts.
The state board has now weighed in on all 43 alternative proposals put forward under Act 46. The controversial consolidation law requires the board to make the final call on all districts that have not voluntarily merged. Unconsolidated districts put forward so-called “alternative governance structure” proposals, most asked to remain basically as-is. In June, then-acting Secretary of Education Heather Bouchey submitted her recommendation for mergers.
The state board has until Nov. 30 to reorder districts, and it has been issuing provisional decisions on a rolling basis since October. A meeting is scheduled for Nov. 28 for the board to formally adopt its decisions, none of which are technically final yet.
The merger in Barre includes consolidation of Barre City, Barre Town, and Spaulding High school boards. Some Barre officials argued for a merger by pointing out a bulk of operations had already been consolidated to the supervisory union level. And others, meanwhile, said that the current arrangement worked well and that no one would choose to serve on a school board that would oversee a system of about 1,500 students.
Local officials tried one last-ditch effort to voluntarily consolidate the districts during last week’s general election. But in both Barre and Orleans Central, voters rejected mergers at the ballot box.
State board members who voted in the majority to consolidate the Barre Supervisory Union noted that, while Barre Town had voted against a merger, the city had voted in favor of it by much larger margins, and that, if the vote were combined, the total tally was pro-merger.
Huling also appeared struck by how much school spending in Barre City and Town had been centralized to the supervisory union level. Supervisory union budgets are not voted on directly by residents the way town school district budgets are, and proponents of Act 46 have argued that district consolidation could save money at the supervisory union level.
“We have have an SU budget that is on the order of about $14 million. And then each of our three district budgets are about $10 million. So the largest budget that we have is in the SU,” Barre superintendent John Pandolfo told state board members.
In the Northeast Kingdom, six school districts (Albany, Barton, Brownington, Glover, Irasburg, and Orleans) that all funnel into Lake Region Union High in the Orleans Central Supervisory Union will be consolidated.
Ironically, the lone district in Orleans Central that voted in favor of a merger last Tuesday – Westmore – will remain a standalone district. That’s because the district doesn’t operate a K-8 school like its partners in the supervisory union, and the state board cannot merge districts that have school structures.
Krista Huling, chair of the State Board of Education, listens to discussion
during a board meeting in Barre on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger
In a presentation to the state board, Orleans Central superintendent Bev Davis and supervisory union board chair Amy Leroux both said the school board was fully behind a merger despite opposition from the communities themselves.
“How do you, as a board, resolve that dilemma. The people tell you one thing, and you think another?” state board member John Carroll asked.
“I’ve been thinking about that very much for the past week or so,” Leroux answered. “I unfortunately don’t have an answer.”
Both Davis and Leroux said a unified structure would make it easier to recruit and retain the necessary staff to better address inequities across the supervisory union’s member schools, especially its smaller buildings.
And state board member John O’Keefe asked the two officials if, with opposition to mergers so high in the communities, anybody had tried to run against school board members.
“No. That would be phenomenal. Again, that’s one other thing we struggle with – is finding someone to serve on the school boards,” Leroux said.
The board also went over earlier decisions, and in one case – a proposed merger between the Stowe and the Elmore-Morristown districts – nearly reversed course. The board had voted just two weeks ago to merge the two districts despite the secretary’s plan recommending they remain independent. The decision took local school officials in both districts by surprise, and representatives from both the Elmore-Morristown and Stowe board jointly attended the state board’s meeting Thursday to plead for autonomy.
David Bickford, from the Elmore-Morristown board, told state officials that a forced merger between the two communities would cause people on the ground to “retreat” from the considerable – and voluntary – work already done to bring the two districts closer together. And Stowe school board member Jim Brochhausen read off a litany of data points to argue the two districts already had basically the same curriculum and substantial equity in both academic offerings and outcomes.
Their presentation almost convinced the state board, who revisited their decision later in the meeting at the prompting of student member Callahan Beck.
Carroll made a motion to reconsider the board’s earlier vote, saying that while he hadn’t agreed with the secretary’s reasoning in her proposed plan, a study of the districts’ joint alternative governance proposal had made him rethink his earlier decision.
“There’s pretty compelling evidence that the AGS proposal of these communities, and their track record of years and years of collaboration, shows that the AGS is highly responsive to the objectives of the act,” he said.
But the board split 4-4, with Huling then breaking the tie to vote against reconsideration.
The Alliance of Vermont School Board Members is preparing to support schools and communities which are seeking strategies to avoid forced mergers. By joining together we can work more effectively
Announcing the establishment of a fund
to support litigation on behalf of
school districts who oppose forced mergers
as a result of Act 46
This week the Alliance of Vermont School Board Members, working in conjunction with Vermonters for Schools & Communities https://www.vtschoolsrock.org announce the establishment of a fund to support litigation on behalf of school districts who oppose forced mergers as a result of Act 46. At this time 21 school districts facing forced merger have announced their intention to take legal action to challenge forced merger by the Vermont State Board of Education.
“School districts object to forced merger. They are taking legal action because they believe the Agency of Education and State Board of Education rejected their applications to form alternative governance structures out of hand, without following the law. The districts believe that if the State Board of Education followed the alternative application process appropriately, many more applications for alternative governance would have been approved.” said Margaret MacLean of V4SC.
On behalf of AVSBM, V4SC, and many participating school boards, attorney David Kelley forwarded a "Litigation Hold" letter to the Agency of Education and the State Board on August 31. It warned the agency and board to preserve all documents related to their actions on the "Act 46 State-Wide Plan," the document recommending forced mergers. This is a first step in seeking an injunction to forestall the implementation of forced mergers which these groups argue would cause "Immediate and Irreparable harm."
For donations, please visit our “gofundme” page. Contributions to the Act 46 Defense Fund may also be made by check to the Alliance of Vermont School Board Members at P.O. Box 251, Westminster, Vt. 05158. Contributions are tax deductible. Further details, including a copy of Attorney Kelley's litigation hold letter can be found on the Alliance website.