BVSU to explore consolidation options
While local school officials are planning a straw poll of community members during the May 28 meeting, the State Board of Education has the ultimate say whether to make any changes to the supervisory union's boundaries.
A new report prepared at the request of the state board outlines the potential effects of the BVSU's consolidation with either neighboring supervisory union: the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union to the south or Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union to the north.
While the study's authors, John Stempke and Peter Amons, find in their report that affiliating with a larger supervisory union may enhance curriculum, technology, and selected professional development, the cost savings of joining are not significant, although "there is material financial value" in being part of a larger supervisory union.
Cost savings and efficiencies played a large part in prompting the study, amid 2010's Act 153 and talk of a Regional School District (RED) which has since been abandoned.
Maureen Harvey, the BVSU chairwoman and vice-chair of the Arlington School Board, said those findings were expected by local school officials.
"There's a minimal savings. ... We thought that going in," Harvey said in a recent interview.
"My opinion is it needs to be a town decision," she continued.
At the meeting later this month, board members will present the findings and answer questions from the public. Harvey said local officials had requested a meeting with Vermont Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca before the state board picks up the discussion at its June meeting.
The study is the result of a 2010 vote by that statewide authority to consider the effects of consolidating the BVSU -- the smallest supervisory union in the state, with two schools and fewer than 400 students.
The BVSU was formed in 1994. Previous discussions about joining the BRSU have been initiated but never acted upon.
Conversely, the SVSU currently provides some contractual services to the BVSU, including business and student data services.
Projected annual financial savings for joining the BRSU were put at $89,000 for the Arlington district and $21,000 for Sandgate. Joining the SVSU, those amounts were projected at $72,000 and $19,000, respectively.
Converted to tax savings, those amounts translate to three or four cents on final tax rates, or "not consequential in total or when compared to one another," the study concludes.
"Most of the savings if Arlington and Sandgate joined another SU would be spread among the towns they join in the SU which unsurprisingly means the State Education Fund sees the ultimate savings," the report continues.
Joining with a larger supervisory union would, however, provided greater "real education and management value, that is, how much taxpayers get for their money," according to the report, because of the capacity for the larger organization to have dedicated administrative resources for items like information technology, professional development, grant administration, finances, special education, and curriculum development.
Harvey maintained the high quality of an education in Arlington currently. "It's a really good school district."
"Our feeling right now, at a board level, is people are wanting to stay how we are," Harvey said, continuing to say she hoped state officials listened to residents in Arlington and Sandgate.
The state board has the authority to assign school districts to supervisory unions; however, public feedback may influence any final decision. The state board has not previously dissolved a supervisory union against its will, but the mandated study to consider consolidation was a first.
The needs assessment formally began the spring of 2012 with an educational analysis by Stempke and a financial analysis by Amons. Interviewed as part of the study were superintendents of all three supervisory unions, board members and administrators in Arlington, SVSU Business Manager Richard Pembroke, and Vaughn Altemus with the Vermont Agency of Education.
The public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, May 28, at 7 p.m. in the Mack Performing Arts Center and Wes Carlson Studio for Dance at Arlington Memorial High School.
A copy of the Supervisory Union Consolidation Needs Assessment report is available online at www.bvsu.org, and at the Arlington town offices.
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