BVSU's future taken to State Board
The discussion comes after a 2010 directive asking the BVSU to study the effects of consolidation with one of two neighboring supervisory unions.
The state board will make a determination following a recommendation from Vermont Education Secretary Armando Vilaseca, but that decision is not expected until the board's next meeting in August.
State board Chairman Stephan Morse said by email Monday that the Vermont Agency of Education was recommending the board hold off the full discussion until August when the agency will come to the board with a report.
"I think the board is more concerned with the total number of supervisory unions in the state," Morse wrote, "which is a much broader issue than dealing with the smallest supervisory union," meaning the BVSU.
At a public meeting last Friday in Arlington, Vilaseca said similar talk was occurring elsewhere in supervisory unions with small populations, framed statewide by increasing education costs and a declining student count.
A public hearing last month found the majority of local townspeople and school officials wishing to remain "as is."
BVSU 'not an island' in Vermont education system
At times heated, Friday's meeting found audience members querying the representatives from the state.
"It's working pretty darn good the way it is," said one local resident.
Attendees voiced concern with losing independence, and Fisher Elementary School Principal Deanne Lacoste said different teaching models, curriculum, and policy in the new supervisory union were important topics to consider and potential downsides.
Vilaseca said the discussion wasn't eliminating school boards or districts. But that "we need to do something structurally so more and more money isn't taken out of kids' hands" for administrative costs.
Vermont "probably doesn't need more than 20, 25, 30 supervisory unions ... with 20, 25, 30 superintendents," he said. Given statewide funding of education under Vermont's Act 60 and Act 68, "you're not an island."
While Vilaseca said he was still undecided in terms of a recommendation to the state board, "my initial reaction was never south," he said. "If it was my decision, I would definitely say north," joining with the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union.
Released earlier this year, a needs assessment report found local savings consolidating the Arlington and Sandgate school districts with the northern BRSU (thereby dissolving the BVSU) on the scale of $110,000 total.
Vilaseca and education Finance Manager Vaughn Altemus said the joining supervisory union would see similar savings based on its increasing student body.
By reducing the number of supervisory unions across the state, "there are millions and millions and millions of dollars saved," Vilaseca said. Some of the savings could go toward increasing programming.
"This is not a secret: I believe we have too many school districts in the state," and by extension too many boards, Vilaseca continued. The goal is "consolidating boards, not consolidating schools."
The state board has the authority to redistrict supervisory unions, but no ability under current law to close school districts.
"You have to look at the irrationality of a supervisory union structure," said Thomas Gallagher, a previous superintendent at the BVSU and Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union sitting in the audience.
Agreeing with Vilaseca about the need for change, "what I think you're doing is making a trade that hurts both teams," Gallagher said. "This I believe is more political than educational."
Should a decision be made to incorporate Arlington and Sandgate into a new supervisory union, the change would occur July 1, 2015, with a two-year period for transitioning financial and policy changes.
Follow @Zeke_Wright on Twitter or email email@example.com
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.