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.

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With decisions looming, State Board sets guiding principles on forced mergers

By Lola Duffort
Oct 2 2018

 

Krista Huling is chair of the State Board of Education. Photo by Bob LoCicero/VTDigger


Vermont’s school district consolidation law envisioned smaller districts folding into larger entities, except where mergers aren’t “possible” or “practicable.” In certain respects, the law is extremely specific, outlining potential configurations and the minimum number of students expected in new structures.

But on key points, Act 46 is vague.

“It doesn’t define what is possible or practicable. That’s kind of our job here today,” State Board of Education chair Krista Huling said Tuesday at the start of another marathon meeting for the 11-member body.

The board is tasked with deciding what to do with the 40-some “alternative governance” proposals submitted under the law by districts that haven’t voluntarily merged by now. The secretary of education released a recommended plan earlier this summer, and the board now has until Nov. 30 to make the final call.

Over the course of eight hours, board members debated debt, community votes against mergers, geography, and relations between districts. The board ultimately voted to adopt a short list of principles to guide their decision-making process moving forward, although its members also emphasized the list wasn’t set in stone.

Board members telegraphed that they would basically agree with the secretary’s analysis on the question of which forced mergers weren’t “possible,” or allowed under the law. Those include mergers of districts with different operating structures, inter-state districts or technical centers.

But the question of how to decide whether mergers were “practicable” generated hours of discussion. The board ultimately voted that five scenarios, in some combination, would warrant the body considering – but not necessarily granting – communities an out from mergers.

Potentially impracticable partnerships included:

• Districts where formal agreements and/or processes are already underway to merge.
• Non-contiguous districts, unless communities themselves suggested the partnerships in an alternative governance proposal.
• Cases in which per-pupil spending was greater than 20 percent of the mean per-pupil spending of potential merger partners. Where potential partners had such disparate spending levels, board members said they would consider whether debt precluded a merger.
• Cases in which communities voted against formal merger proposals.
• Cases in which a district or supervisory union was merged within the last two fiscal years and was not a modified unified union school district or non-member elementary district.

A key argument by districts facing potentially forced mergers is that state-imposed consolidations that ignore community votes rejecting those mergers are undemocratic. Board members spent a significant chunk of time Tuesday talking about how much weight – if any – they should accord these no votes.

 

Oliver Olsen. File photo by Amy Ash Nixon/VTDigger

The question cuts to the core of why Act 46 was so controversial from the start, but board member Oliver Olsen – a key player in the law’s passage during his time as a state representative – argued that the law was written with teeth for a reason.

Earlier legislative attempts to cajole school districts into merging solely through incentives “quite frankly didn’t work,” he said.

School districts that merged voluntarily during earlier phases of Act 46’s implementation did so because they understood the State Board would if they didn’t, he said. And to exempt school districts who rejected all merger proposals at the ballot box from ultimately consolidating at all would send the wrong message.

“I think there’s an inherent issue of fairness,” he said.

But some board members appeared loath to dismiss votes completely.

“It doesn’t make a difference how many times you voted on that particular question? And how thorough you presented that question to the community? Because I think it does,” countered board member Mark Perrin.

The State Board will next meet Oct. 17, when it may start making preliminary merger decisions on some of the less complicated and controversial configurations.


 

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State Board of Education Meeting

October 2, 2018  8:30 AM - 4:30 PM 
Public to Be Heard: 9:15 AM 
White River Valley School (Bethel Campus) 
273 Pleasant St. Bethel, Vt.  05032

Click here for agenda  


 

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 VT Digger Minute

Anti-Act 46 groups threaten to sue state board, AoE

By Lola Duffort



Sep. 13 2018

Act 46 skeptics are preparing for a lawsuit.

An attorney volunteering with the Alliance of Vermont School Boards Members has sent a letter to the Vermont Agency of Education and the State Board of Education threatening to sue in the event of forced mergers. The “litigation hold letter” puts the state on notice it could be subject to a suit and instructs it to preserve any documents that could be subject to the discovery process if the matter goes to court.

The letter, signed by Greensboro attorney David Kelley, also places a public records request for all AoE and state board documents relating to the secretary of education’s proposed plan under Act 46. Under the law, the secretary was tasked with recommending what to do with districts that have not voluntarily merged. The board will have the final say, and the letter is an explicit attempt to influence the body as it enters the final phase of the law.

“When you issue your final plan by November 30, 2018, I would encourage you to reject all forced mergers, and I am hopeful that you will pursue that course,” the letter states.

State Board Chair Krista Huling said the letter – which comes as school districts resisting mergers try a range of options, including shuttering schools – is no surprise.

“Almost every meeting we’ve had, people are threatening lawsuits,” she said.

She added that the board is committed to going through the process with an open mind. And she said the threat of going to court wasn’t going to sway them one way or another.

“It’s their prerogative to do that, but I don’t think it’s going to influence our decision-making,” she said.

The alliance formed last year as a rival lobbying group when Vermont School Boards Association members unhappy with the association’s stance on the consolidation law splintered off. The secretary’s plan, released earlier this summer, recommended 18 forced mergers covering dozens of school districts.

Margaret MacLean is working with Vermonters for Schools and Community, another anti-Act 46 group, to coordinate opposition to forced mergers, including to recruit plaintiffs. She argues, as the letter does, that the secretary’s plan hasn’t given enough credit to communities that asked the state to accept alternatives to mergers under the law.

“I think that from the beginning communities have in good faith asked, tried, made every effort to work in partnership with the state,” she said. “And they have complied with the legal process to present an alternative proposal. And they deserve to have those proposals looked at on their merits.”

At least five school boards have voted to join a lawsuit as plaintiffs in the event of a forced merger, MacLean said, and another 30 could take a vote sometime within the next few weeks.

The letter says communities could sue on several grounds, including that forced mergers violate the federal and state “takings” clause.

“The State Board cannot reassign ownership of school facilities or other property from the towns that own those properties, or reassign debt among the citizens of different towns, without due process and just compensation,” it states.

The agency doesn’t comment on litigation or the possibility of pending litigation, spokesperson Ted Fisher said, but officials are responding to the group’s public records request.



 

Litigation Hold Letter-Act 46 Statewide Plan

DAVID F. KELLEY

ATTORNEY AT LAW
1501 SHADOW LAKE ROAD CRAFTSBURY COMMON, VT 05827

Via Email

Krista Huling, Chair
Vermont State Board of Education 219 North Main Street, Suite 402 Barre, VT 05641
krista.huling@vermont.gov

Molly Bachman, General Counsel Vermont Agency of Education 219 North Main Street, Suite 402 Barre, VT 05641
molly.bachman@vermont.gov

Cc:  William Griffin, Chief Assistant Attorney General

Re:  Combined Public Records Act Request Under 1 V.S.A. Chapter 5 and Request for
Preservation of Paper and Electronic Documents Related to Act 46 Statewide Plan

Dear Chair Huling and Ms. Bachman,

As you know, a number of groups are opposed to the forced merger of local school boards. I am working with some of those groups, including the Alliance of Vermont School Board Members Inc., on these efforts. These groups were happy to hear the discussion among State Board members at the end of the August 15, 2018 meeting, where some Board members expressed skepticism about accepting the forced mergers that have been recommended by the Acting Secretary of Education. When you issue your final plan by November 30, 2018, I would encourage you to reject all forced mergers, and I am hopeful that you will pursue that course.

That said, given the Agency's proposed Statewide Plan, and the statements of Chair Huling and others that they expect that the State Board will force merger on at least some unwilling school districts, we are forced to consider all of our options, including litigation seeking injunctive relief in state or federal court. We believe there is a strong case to be made that it is illegal to force mergers on unwilling districts for a number of reasons, including:

(1) Under the Takings Clause of the federal and state constitutions, the State Board cannot reassign ownership of school facilities or other property from the towns that own those properties, or reassign debt among the citizens of different towns, without due process and just compensation.

(2) The merger of already existing union districts with other boards violates 16 V.S.A. § 706n, which requires a vote to amend the Articles of Agreement that established the union district. The Legislature recognized this in Act 49 of 2017, which specifically requested proposed legislation that “amends 16
V.S.A. § 706n, which currently requires all later amendments to articles to be approved by either the electorate or the unified board based upon whether the provision was included in the Warning for the original merger vote.” Act 49 (2017) § 10(d)(3)(B). The Legislature failed to pass any amendments to 16 V.S.A. § 706n during the 2018 legislative session. Consequently, the State Board does not have authority to force merger on a union district.

(3) A forced merger of towns such as those in Washington Central Supervisory Union and a number of other districts experiencing differing levels of debt, is not in accordance with law because Act 49 requires “consideration of greatly differing levels of indebtedness among the member districts.” Act 49 (2017)  § 7(c)(4). The State Board cannot ignore duly passed laws.

(4) The State Board cannot ignore the clearly stated legislative intent that town votes matter and that these votes represent more than mere “community sentiment.” Further, if the State Board adopts the Acting Secretary’s plan to merge districts like Barnard into already existing Modified Unified Union Districts (MUUD) under the Articles of Agreement adopted by the other members of the MUUD, it would be arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with law. This is because it would give force of law to one part of a vote (the MUUD districts’ adoption of Articles of Agreement) while overriding another part of a vote (the dissenting town’s choice to not join the MUUD), even though those decisions occurred simultaneously on the same ballot.

(5) A forced merger is arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with law, for many other reasons, including:

(a) It would directly contravene duly warned and properly held democratic votes of districts opposed to merger. Some of these towns voted multiple times against merger. For instance, Huntington held 4 separate votes and each time voted "No" to merger. The town of Franklin held a vote in which its citizens unanimously opposed merger.

(b) It would treat similarly situated actors differently. For instance, if districts such as Stowe and Elmore-Morristown are not forced to merge, then similarly situated districts, which provided similar explanations as Stowe and Elmore-Morristown for why merger would not work, cannot be forced to merge. The disparate treatment of these communities raises substantial “Common Benefits” and “Equal Protection” clause questions.

(c) It would impose more stringent requirements on alternative governance structures than what is required by law, in direct violation of the mandate in Act 49 of 2017 that the State Board "shall not by rule or otherwise impose more stringent requirements than those in this act."

(d) It would render Section 9 of Act 46, as amended by Act 49, mere surplusage, in direct contravention of the statutory language and legislative intent.

(e) In multiple instances foundational data for the anticipated Statewide Plan as proposed is incorrect.

This is not an exhaustive list. We are currently working to develop these and other claims that may be brought in the event that the State Board elects to force merger on unwilling districts. We raise this preliminary list of issues now for two reasons:

(1) to provide notice to the State Board of Education and the Agency of Education that, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the merits of the above claims, you should reasonably anticipate litigation regarding any proposal to force merger, and thus preserve all documents potentially relevant to litigation; and

(2) under 1 V.S.A. Chapter 5, we formally request a subset of those documents—
namely, any data, information, and communications related to the Acting Secretary’s proposed Statewide Plan and the State Board’s analysis (including that of individual Board members) to date of that plan (including emails or text messages related to these matters). We specifically request that these documents be provided in electronic format, which should minimize any potential cost to us in receiving these documents. (If you anticipate any costs, please provide an estimate, along with justification for how these costs were calculated under the Secretary of State’s fee provisions.)

This is to notify you that, if you have not already done so, you must immediately commence a "litigation hold" to retain and preserve all records, including all paper and electronically stored documents, data and information (such as emails and text messages), which may be relevant or which might reasonably be expected to lead to the discovery of relevant information relative to the above-referenced claims and any other claims that may be brought if the State Board imposes merger on unwilling districts. This includes, by way of example and not limitation, any written or printed research or reports, electronically stored information, texts, calendars, emails or other communications or documents, whether stored in hard copies or electronically on government electronic or private electronic devices, including all allegedly privileged materials, related in any way to Act 46 of 2015 and Act 49 of 2017 and the passage and implementation of those laws and related rules and the anticipated Statewide Plan.

The obligation to preserve all records includes the preservation of all types of written, printed, electronic, and other materials including: memos, correspondence (including emails), spreadsheets, PowerPoints, reports, handwritten notes, drafts, files, calendars, appointment books, audio and video tapes, backups, and diaries. This requirement to retain information also applies to all non-identical copies, versions, and drafts. If you create documents including memos, letters, and spreadsheets that are relevant to the subject matter of this anticipated litigation, you should save major revisions as new documents so previous drafts are preserved.

This obligation to preserve records extends to all personnel, individual Board members, employees of both the State Board of Education and the Agency of Education, as well as all people contracted with or consulted by these agencies (whether within or outside of state government) who may have documents that may be relevant to this anticipated litigation. We trust that you will work quickly to immediately identify and notify all of these people of their obligation to preserve records.

Finally, the obligation to preserve records may require immediate actions to ensure that no potentially relevant documents are automatically deleted through an email or database "auto-delete" function or any other other routine destruction function. All persons with potentially relevant records should ensure that their email accounts and other databases, including email "trash" folders, do not have "auto-delete" or other routine destruction functions set for older records.

Thank you for your immediate attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,
/s/ David F. Kelley
David F. Kelley

 

 

Dear School Board Chair,

While we all hope that the State Board of Education will see the issues raised in the Alternative plan submissions as genuine barriers to “practicable” school district mergers, we all know that we cannot wait for the final state plan to be issued before preparing for the worst. Instead we need to take some precautionary steps now.  You are faced with clear choices:

  1. Accept a ruling of the SBE that you must merge.
  2. Look to join legal action to provide relief
  3. Vote to close your school and begin plans to create an independent school locally.

Each district will need to mull over the options and decide on their best next step. I am writing today to let you know that a volunteer group of school leaders has been meeting and working with some volunteer attorneys to lay the groundwork for legal challenges to forced merger.  We hope that litigation is not going to be necessary, but want to be prepared in the event it is.  And we are clear that if it is necessary, it will be best if communities choose to take joint action to gain relief from forced merger, rather than trying to go alone, one by one, into court.

Over the weekend the group submitted the attached joint litigation “hold” (a warning to potential defendants that they must not destroy or alter records related to decisions they have made) and a public records request to the State Board of Education and the Agency of Education. It details some of the issues districts face and informs both the State Board and Agency that litigation is possible.

I am writing at this time to ask you to discuss with your fellow board members the option of legal action and, if the resolve is there, to vote in the next few weeks to join other districts in a lawsuit to seek a preliminary injunction against forced merger, if such a lawsuit is warranted.  I want to emphasize that we hope the idea of forced mergers dies, as it should, and that litigation becomes unnecessary. 

At this time there is no cost involved as the lawyers are volunteering their time. Once the SBE plan is published we understand that some districts may not be recommended for forced merger and at that point they would withdraw from the potential litigation, leaving others to move forward if they choose to do so.   At that stage we will know the number of districts who will be plaintiffs and will be able to determine the cost per district.  We believe that the final amount will be a reasonable amount per community to bring the process to the stage of a preliminary injunction.

The lawsuit would be filed as soon as possible after the publication of the final plan. The volunteer attorneys are currently working on the complaint and if a preliminary injunction is issued, it would stop the process of forced merger until the case is resolved. Consequently, you would prepare your school budget for your district as usual this school year as merger would most likely not happen on July 1st 2019 but be delayed until legal action is resolved.

As soon as your district has decided and voted on this please let me know. This will indicate that your district intends, if forced into merger, to be a plaintiff in the case moving forward. Once we have received the outcome of your local vote we will arrange a meeting in early October with representatives from each district that has signed on to be a plaintiff. At that time, we will answer questions and outline the next steps. Please let me know by September 28th your decision either way.

If your community has retained an attorney to represent you on this issue please send us their contact information as we would like to loop them into this working group of lawyers.
If you have questions do not hesitate to call me at 802-274-3080 or email me directly at margmaclean@netscape.net.

Together we have a strong case for the fair resolution of the issues districts have presented in their alternative plans.

Sincerely

Margaret MacLean
Vermonters for Schools and Communities

Attached
Litigation Hold and public records request
Unfair and Unwise

Potential Motion
"The xxxxx school district votes to become a plaintiff to join LEGAL ACTION AGAINST FORCED MERGER in the event that the State Board of Education's final Statewide Plan imposes forced merger on xxxxx school district." 

 

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Unfair and Unwise
The Secretary of Education’s Plan Regarding Involuntary
Mergers Misguides the State Board of Education,
Violates the Law, and Damages Public Education
August, 2018


In 2015, the Vermont General Assembly set the state’s public school system on a course of centralization. To the extent that communities were willing to give up self-governance, the process of school district consolidation would be voluntary and deliberative.

As in many other rural states where education governance structures have been consolidated, the political alliance that drove Vermont’s consolidation was a coincidence of interest between unlike partners: conservative budget hawks promising more efficiency and lower per pupil spending, and education elites, promising more high-end courses, and equity in curricular offerings.

The law that set this course of action is Act 46 (as amended in 2017 by Act 49). It established a “preferred” governance model—a single K-12 school district providing education to all students in the district and having a minimum enrollment of 1,250.

No one believed that such a model could work everywhere in a state of very small communities, many strewn along narrow valleys between mountains, and many more spread out across sparsely populated farm and forest lands. So the General Assembly created multiple pathways to “alternative governance structures” in places where the preferred structure was not the best structure.

Districts serving communities who found merger into the preferred model impracticable were accorded the right under Section 9 of Act 46 to go through a separate planning process to arrive at a proposal for how they would structure themselves, alone or in combination with other districts, to meet the goals of the Act with regard to equity, efficiency, and opportunity. In December 2017, 95 Vermont school districts (about one-third), alone or in various combinations, submitted 44 “Section 9” proposals. To continue reading click here.

www.vtschoolsrock.org

 

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Strategies For School Boards Facing Involuntary Mergers Conference
July 7th
Aldrich Library, Barre
10:00am - 1:00pm


Join us to put our heads together around the steps school districts ​can take to defend against forced mergers and closures of local schools

Conveying school buildings from the district to the town or a not-for-profit?
 
Voting to become a choice town rather than be compelled to merge? 

Others?


Agenda

10AM- Coffee, Tea,  Scones
              Welcome and Introductions- David Schoales, Brattleboro Town School Board

10:15- What is to be done if the Secretary's plan says your district should merge?
             Steps to take and options to consider; Q and A

10:45- ​ How do we prepare for the regional meetings? – Review a list of important steps to take.
​               Q and A.

11:15-   Potential generic arguments and approaches that are possible based on the plan?  Q and A.

11:45-  Arguments and ​approaches that could apply to specific districts/SU's- Margaret Maclean​

How do we exploit weaknesses in the Secretary's plan to strengthen our alternative plans? 
How do we prove our alternatives are the "best."
Districts with similar issues link up to plan/prepare responses to the plan. 

​12:45-​  Final Q and A- What do we need to do next?

Please RSVP to info@ avsbm.org and let us know how many will be attending.

 

 

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Press Release
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 info@avsbm.org.

 

Downloadable Presentation Materials & Guidelines

John Castle's thoughts.pdf

Presenting Your AGS fmtd.pdf

Topics for Conversations (1).pdf

Barnard's AGS proposal to the AOE on March 23

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Press Release
Contact David Schoales (info@avsbm.org)

AVSBM Conference March 17

We are writing to let you know that our Alternative Governance​ ​Structures (A.G.S.) forum ​has been re-​scheduled f​or ​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,
Montgomery.
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

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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



Press Release
Contact David Schoales (info@avsbm.org)
Jack Bryar (jack.bryar@gmail.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 info@avsbm.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 info@avsbm.org.

Final Invite to Conference Montpelier

Compilation of info from State Sources

Outline of Presentation suggestions

 

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Press Release:
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: info@avsbm.org.



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