MANCHESTER >> When the Manchester School district's board of directors met for their organizational meeting following March Town Meeting, relative newcomer Jon Wilson, with only one year under his belt as a board member, was named as the new chairman, replacing Brian Vogel, who had lost his bid for re-election.
During Monday night's school board meeting, Wilson announced that should his mother, Jackie Wilson, be named interim superintendent during the meeting of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union's board meeting scheduled for Wednesday night, April 13, he would step down from the school board to avoid any perceptions of a conflict of interest,
"It's a small community," Wilson said. "It's important to me there aren't those perceptions and especially integrity questions. It's an important asset to me — I expect to be here a long time."
The BRSU board meeting and a decision on Jackie Wilson becoming interim school superintendent was scheduled to take place after The Journal's press time, but indications were likely that Jackie Wilson would indeed at least be offered the post, replacing the outgoing Daniel French, who is leaving to accept a position at St. Michael's College in Colchester. The agenda posted for the meeting includes a recommendation to hire Wilson for the position of interim superintendent at a salary of $128,000.
An earlier, formal search for a permanent replacement for French had been unsuccessful.
If hired, Wilson would start as interim superintendent on July 1. In response to a question from the school board on the timing of her hiring, Jim Salsgiver, the chairman of the BRSU board of directors, confirmed from the audience which had gathered for the board meeting that she will be recommended to the board for the position.
In a later email, Salsgiver said the interim superintendent position would be for one year and the BRSU board will be launching another search for a permanent appointment later this year.
Later, after the board went into executive session to discuss personnel and a labor agreement with the school's non-teaching staff. Salsgiver cautioned that nothing was certain until it was final.
Jackie Wilson is currently serving as the BRSU's assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment. She is a former principal of the Manchester Elementary Middle School. She won the Vermont Principals Association award for leadership in 2008 and has been serving in the BRSU central office since July, 2011.
However, in the event that Jackie Wilson is offered the position and accepts, her son, Jon Wilson, will step off the board "no later than July 1," he said.
He would have a clearer idea when he would leave by the next board meeting, which is currently scheduled for Monday, May 2, he said. Wilson is currently in the second year of a three-year term which began in March 2015. Board member Jim Lind attempted to persuade Wilson to remain on the board and recuse himself from votes that he felt presented too close of a conflict, but Wilson said his decision was set.
"I've given it a lot of thought," he said. "I'm not going to change my mind now."
Before Wilson's statement, the board approved the appointment of town residents Ed Morrow, Betsy Bleakie and Meg Kenny to fill the three slots reserved for community members on the school district's five member delegation to the BRSU's Act 46 merger study committee.
This committee, comprised of 17 members from school boards and town representatives from Manchester, Dorset, Sunderland, Danby, Mt. Tabor and the Mountain Towns RED (Peru, Landgrove, Londonderry and Weston), will attempt to sort through how the school districts will develop a plan to consolidate school governance under the statute, passed last year by the state legislature to introduce more efficiencies, and it is hoped eventually, cost savings to Vermont's roughly 270 school districts. The committee may hold its first organizational meeting later this month, now that all the school districts have named their representatives. Manchester, with five representatives, has the most of any individual town. Two school board members will join Morrow, Bleakie and Kenny. The board had previously picked newcomer Jim Lind and Jon Wilson, who said in an email on Tuesday that he would remain as a member of this committee should he wind up having to leave the board. Under the statute, each board only has to have one board member, and Lind would satisfy that requirement.
The board also heard an update Monday night from board member Steve Murphy on the "ad hoc" committee appointed by the board last winter to explore alternatives to Act 46 for Manchester. Among the alternatives under consideration included restructuring the district as an independent one.
However, the committee has been unable to meet for the last seven weeks owing to scheduling conflicts, he said. In response to a query from Jon Wilson on when a report containing their recommendations might be anticipated, Murphy said that while he had been hoping to have one ready this month, that was unlikely at this point.
When finished, the report would likely contain observations and a discussion of the mechanics of how a transition to an independent district could occur, he said.
"It's not something that just gets done behind the scenes," Murphy said, referring to the process of going independent. "It's a very public endeavor. People will have many opportunities to contribute."
The report would include the problems, issues and potential solutions to such a transition, he added.
In other business, the board announced that after 45 years in education, 40 of them in Manchester schools, librarian Georgine Bonifanti would be retiring at the end of the school year. A search is underway to name a successor, which the board discussed when it went into executive session.
Following its executive session, the board announced it had ratified a proposed agreement with school's non-teaching staff, which includes custodians, paraeducators and administrative personnel, who number about 30 in all. The agreement calls for a 2.5 percent wage increase. Full-time, full year employees will also be eligible for single, two-person or family health insurance coverage with the school district picking up 89 percent of the premium costs. Such employees would also be eligible for dental insurance, with the district paying 89 percent of the premiums.