BENNINGTON >> In addition to finalizing the assessments that will be charged to member districts, the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union was given an update on Act 46, and heard from a concerned member of the public.
Superintendent Jim Culkeen delivered the Act 46 report, saying that the series of public forums that started in Shaftsbury in December had been put on hold due to budget meetings, but are about to start again. The next meeting will be on Monday, Feb. 1, at 6 p.m. at the Pownal Elementary School. "The format is the same that was used in Shaftsbury," he said, "We will begin with a brief overview of what Act 46 is, then we will solicit comments from the public, we want to hear what their concerns are, what they're anticipating to come out of this, then the meeting will conclude with comments from the Act 46 study committee." He said principal Todd Phillips will be sending flyers home with students to encourage parents to attend the meeting.
Culkeen said he has also been having trouble finding an Act 46 consultant willing to come and talk with the SU. "We haven't applied for our grant yet, because we really have nothing to spend it on yet, because it's for consulting and legal fees," he said. He said the state has assembled a pool of consultants who specialize in advising school boards on the 2015 education law, and are "without the biases of board members or superintendents who might already have their own opinions formed."
However, he said, there was a problem. "I haven't been that successful in getting one," he said, "The comments last week to me were, 'I can't get anybody willing to come this far south.'" He did say, however, that earlier in the evening he had spoken with a consultant that was going to be working with the Arlington-based Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union who was willing to meet with the SVSU as well. Culkeen suggested that, after the committee has held a public forum in each community, the committee should work to get on the same page, and then the consultant can be brought in to advise them on how to proceed.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, Bennington resident Laurie Mulhern again raised concerns about the SU's policy on public participation at board meetings. "In regards to communication, the term 'timely manner' really needs a definition," she said, "and frankly, I think during our policy meeting discussions, we discussed this, what is considered a timely manner. And we thought 10 business days, which is about two weeks, and I really strongly encourage the board to take that as a protocol and use that timeline, because I really feel that the longer somebody waits for answers, the longer they're left to hypothesize as to why they're not getting a timely response, or perhaps the mind wanders and assumes the worst. I really encourage the board to think about those guidelines and really stick to some sort of protocol." She also spoke to the importance of retaining service providers, pointing out that if the services required by a special education student's IEP (Individualized Education Program) are not being delivered, the school is out of compliance with the law.