BRSU opposed to consolidation

MANCHESTER - The Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union (BRSU) has written a letter, signed by BRSU Chair Susan Ceglowski, to the Agency of Education regarding their opinion on the possibility of moving the Battenkill Supervisory Union (BVSU) districts to the BRSU.

The letter took the stance that the consolidation of the two boards was "not in [their, the BRSU's] best interests."

"This decision is based in the impact such an assignment would have on the effective financial, organizational, and educational operation of our supervisory union," reads the letter sent on August 9.

After about an hour of discussion Wednesday, Aug. 7, an outline for a letter to be sent to the board of education was agreed upon; the board voted unanimously to write the letter under the agreed upon points.

The financial impact of absorbing the BVSU into the BRSU will, at least initially, be a negative one for the BRSU, and that factor gave some members of the supervisory union's board pause for further thought.

They planned to have stipulations in place if the merger was called for by the state board, but by recommendation from Brian Vogel, of the Manchester school district, the stipulations were described as "special considerations" that would need to be made.

Superintendent Dan French presented his recommendation to the board, which stated that while they can accommodate taking in the BVSU, there would be some issues that would need to be addressed, in addition to the certain stipulations should the merger happen.

"Arlington will save $90,000, and Sandgate will save $20,000 [by joining the BRSU]," said French, "but it will cost the BRSU $22,000 in assessments." Assessments are costs for central administrative services performed by a supervisory union's central office that are billed to and paid by the individual school districts within that supervisory union.

To offset the money they would be spending, French said that they can apply for a $150,000 state transition grant. However, this does not cover the $22,000 in eventual assessments, but only the costs that would result from transitioning the two supervisory unions.

Since the grant will not cover the assessment money, French said that one of the considerations he recommended including was to ask for additional funds, totaling $150,000, to be granted by the state, separate from the transition grant.

The BRSU board of directors was also concerned that the supervisory union would be spread too thin while attempting to make the transition, taking time and effort away from their duties overseeing education. They were especially concerned that French would not be available to aid the BRSU or the individual schools if he was caught up in the BVSU transition.

French also said that if they were to take on more members of the supervisory union, they would be filling more office space which is "pretty much at capacity."

The BRSU recently underwent a large expansion by bringing five new school districts; the Winhall School District plus four other towns - Weston, Peru, Landgrove and Londonderry as part of a Regional Education District, or RED.

In addition to including their concerns with taking in the BVSU in their letter, the board had some things they wanted the state board to consider if they decided to merge the two supervisory unions.

French said that the earliest that they would be able to take on the addition of another supervisory union would be July 1, 2015.

The board all agreed to the inclusion of a request that, if the state education board says that they must take the BVSU, there is a formal petition filed by the BVSU. This would result in the School Board performing a reevaluation of the BVSU, which would result in the merger.

"We don't want this to look like it's a hostile takeover," said French.

Also, French urged all members of the board that could attend the next state board of education meeting on August 20 should go to back up their letter.

"We are anxiously awaiting their decision," said Superintendent of the BVSU Karen Gallese.

BVSU Chair Maureen Harvey explained that they held a meeting in June and invited area residents to come and voice their opinions. At the end of the meeting they held an informal vote.

"We gave them all the facts... and the majority of them said that they would prefer things to stay the same," said Harvey, "but if they had to, they would prefer to choose to join the BRSU."

Harvey said that the board shared the opinions of the majority vote.

"We have been encouraging people to write letters and to attend the meeting on the 20th," she said.

The BVSU is the smallest supervisory union in the state, and consists of the Arlington and Sandgate school districts. The BRSU consists of Danby, Dorset, Manchester, Mt. Tabor, Pawlet, Rupert, Sunderland, Mountain Towns Regional Education District (RED), Winhall and Union Districts #23 and #47.

The board has scheduled a special meeting in preparation of the Vermont Board of Education's meeting on Aug. 20 at the Steakhouse Restaurant in Barre.


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