Keelan: A singular mission: Close Arlington's supervisory union

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As if the residents of Arlington are not suffering enough and enduring human misery, along comes State Board of Education member Oliver Olsen to make their lives even more miserable.

It is no secret to the folks of Arlington that Olsen, appointed to the state's board of education in May of 2018, has had one mission and one mission only, and that is to see that the very successful Arlington School District is dissolved by first closing down its supervisory union.

Six months after his appointment, in November of 2018, he specifically asked the state's school board to place on that month's meeting agenda the closing of Arlington via an absorption of the Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union by the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union. When representatives of the Arlington school board met with the BOE, they were given four minutes to make their case and then leave.

It didn't end there for Olsen. At the state board's March 18, 2020 meeting, Olsen wanted the issue of Arlington's merger with the SVSU discussed. It was, and the board took Olsen's position of not granting Arlington any extension of time. Olsen informed the board that he would draft the letter on behalf of the board — a most unusual suggestion from any board member.

The board's minutes of the March 18, 2020 meeting note the following:

"The board agreed to ask Chair Carroll to send a letter on its behalf once drafted. Olsen reminded the Board to not deliberate and comment on the draft offline and to make sure that a quorum of the Board members is not engaged in drafting the letter."

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The minutes go on, "Olsen will write the draft with assistance from Russo-Savage (with AOE) and provide the letter to the Chair."

Since when does a fellow board member have to acquiesce to such a demand? Are they puppets and just follow along?

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The SVSU, one of the largest in the state, is facing its own challenges with a forced ACT 46 school district merger and rising costs. This, on top of the educational and emotional challenges coming with the COVID-19 crisis. Arlington, a much smaller district, with about 440 students, is

doing fairly well.

Olsen knows this but his intent to shut down Arlington has no boundaries. And his intent is masked behind his ever-present conflict of interest — his direct and indirect involvement with the public and independent schools that are north of Arlington — close your SU and send us your high schoolers, it is that simple.

The Arlington School District has only one way to go at this point. That is to seek redress in the courts by filing an injunction requesting a stay in the state board mandate that it merge with the SVSU.

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The injunction should make reference that Board Member Olsen maintain and preserve all computers, handheld devices (primarily tablets and phones), and printers that were in his possession from May 2018 through April 22, 2020 and pertaining to all discussions regarding this matter. They should be preserved for forensic examination that could disclose the motivations behind why Olsen took it upon himself to draft the above referenced letter.

The Arlington School board members should not have to deal with Oliver Olsen's Machiavellian motivations during this once-in-a-lifetime crisis. And it is quite evident that the state board will not listen. Therefore, it is time for the Arlington School District board to move to the judiciary; it is unfortunate that they would have to, but they have no other choice.

Maybe in a courtroom, it will finally be known what Oliver Olsen's real motivation is. He notes in the BOE meeting minutes, "... his concern is the impact to the students in the region."

This has to be one of the most disingenuous statements ever from a member of the BOE.

Don Keelan writes a regular column  for the Journal.


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