Ed chief to hear BVSU's concerns

ARLINGTON -- Vermont Education Secretary Armando Vilaseca will be visiting Arlington following a report studying the effects of the Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union's potential consolidation.

A public meeting last month found residents almost universally opposed to the notion of losing their supervisory union, the smallest in the state.

But given no option to stay the same, those same townspeople said they'd unilaterally prefer to be incorporated into the northern Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union, as opposed to Bennington's Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union.

The consolidation needs assessment report was prompted by a State Board of Education decision in 2010 to consider a boundary change for the BVSU.

This Friday's special community meeting with Vilaseca, scheduled for 4 p.m. at Arlington Memorial High School's Mack Performing Arts Center, was set before the May 28 meeting where residents expressed concern, according to BVSU Chairwoman Maureen Harvey. "He agreed to come down and talk to us and hear what people have to say in person."

"It's something we had hoped for since the beginning of this," Harvey said. "Hopefully we'll get some answers directly from the secretary."

While the state board has the ultimate authority to dissolve the BVSU and incorporate its two school districts -- Arlington and Sandgate -- into another neighboring supervisory union, that state body will be hearing Vilaseca's recommendation before taking up the topic.

"I'm interested to hear what he has to say," said BVSU Superintendent Karen Gallese, who said the secretary's visit showed concern. "He wants to meet the people of Arlington," she said.

The education secretary has been a proponent of supervisory union consolidation as a way to save tax dollars in the state's Education Fund.

Vaughn Altemus, a finance manager with the Agency of Education who sat in on meetings earlier this year as part of the consolidation study, will be making the trip with Vilaseca. "They wanted us to hear from them, and members of their community," Altemus said on Friday.

"A substantial part of (the meeting) will be, 'What do you want to tell us?'" he continued. "(Vilaseca) always listens to people."

"The secretary will listen right up to Tuesday morning," June 25, before the state board meeting, Altemus said. But "the question wasn't do you want to move north or south or stay as one unit."

"The question was do you want to move north or south."

In 2011, Altemus was appointed by then-Commissioner Vilaseca as an Act 153 advisor, where he served as a resource to school boards and administrators for 2010's Act 153. That legislation encouraged the voluntary merger of schools and the creation of Regional Educational Districts.

With only one operating school district within the BVSU, Altemus said the supervisory union couldn't really develop a "synergy" between schools, for the benefit of staff development, for instance.

Harvey said she hoped local residents could influence the state board's decision. "Because the townspeople should have a voice."

The supervisory union chairwoman said she and other school and town officials and residents still planned to attend the state board meeting, scheduled for later this month in Stowe.

Follow @Zeke_Wright on Twitter or email ewright@benningtonbanner.com


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