BRSU solidifies opposition ahead of BOE meeting

Posted
Manchester Journal

DORSET — The Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union board said it wants to send a strong message to the Vermont Board of Education removing any doubt about its opposition to adding any more school districts to its current configuration.

The move came during an emergency meeting Tuesday evening at The Dorset School ahead of a scheduled meeting of the state education board next week.

The BRSU is concerned the state board might be planning to force member districts of the Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union, which includes Arlington and Sandgate schools, into nearby supervisory unions at its scheduled meeting next week.

At its last meeting, the state BOE discussed the possibility of sending the Arlington district to the Southern Vermont Supervisory Union and the Sandgate district to the BRSU, said Manchester Town Manager John O'Keefe, a BOE member.

The state board took no action during that discussion but with the next BOE meeting scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 15, there is a concern the state board may be planning to act on the matter.

That was enough to prompt the BRSU to spring into action and remove any doubt where it stands on the issue.

BRSU Superintendent Jacquelyne Wilson prepared a memo for the board identifying her concerns.

"I believe it is in the best interest of the BRSU to not be assigned any additional districts," Wilson's memo reads. "I believe that the BRSU's sustainability and functionality is at risk if additional districts are assigned to us. I believe that our organization has reached its capacity to handle the change that the addition of new districts would require."

Wilson told board members the memo was written after a great deal of thought and said she wants the BRSU to be a good neighbor to Arlington and Sandgate, but thinks the supervisory union is at its capacity.

"If we were to take on any additional districts, it will eat away at our work," Wilson told the board Tuesday. "I'm very concerned about continuing down that path. We have now created an SU that is sustainable."

The board was receptive to Wilson's position with the question only being how best to communicate that to the state Board of Education.

BRSU board members decided they were already on the record in opposition to adding any additional districts to the supervisory union with a letter dated May 15 to the state Board of Education, but that opposition needed to be made more clear.

Wilson suggested the board do that with a letter she could present the state.

The board agreed to have Salsgiver update the May 15 letter, firming up any areas that might not clearly express the board's position and removing any possibility the state might misunderstand.

Although the Board of Education has so-far followed the Secretary of Education's recommendation to not force Arlington, a K-12 district, or Sandgate, a non-operating or "full choice" district, to merge with other districts, it has left open the possibility it might reassign those districts, effectively dissolving the BVSU. Some believe such a decision could be made when the BOE meets Thursday.

In a phone call Monday night, Wilson said the Tuesday BRSU meeting was necessary to be prepared for the BOE meeting.

"We know we're on the agenda, and we don't want to be surprised," Wilson said.

The BRSU and BVSU have discussed the possibility of a merger in the past. But the BRSU has not embraced such an arrangement, saying it would be a hardship to add two more districts at the same time that it's managing the inaugural school years for the Taconic & Green and Mettawee districts, and working with the Winhall School Board as it seeks to control its property tax rate.

"None of us has any choice on any of this," BVSU superintendent Bill Bazyk said Monday. He's hoping to lobby the BOE as a whole on the BVSU's future when it meets Thursday.

Reach Greg Sukiennik at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal.com or 802-490-6000, and Darren Marcy at dmarcy@manchesterjournal.com or 802-681-6534.


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