POWNAL — In its second public forum, the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Act 46 Study Committee visited Pownal to hear the advice and concerns of residents, though most of the audience was made up of board members.
The committee will visit every community in the SVSU to hear from parents, staff, and other concerned citizens, before returning to discuss how the SU should best move forward with complying with last year's education bill, which was designed to increase cost efficiency across the state by encouraging consolidation. While committee members are just beginning the process of determining the course of action they are going to recommend to the SU boards which they represent, many have suggested that they feel the best thing to do would be to submit an alternative structure proposal to the state, in which they argue that they have already consolidated more than other districts across the state, and should be able to keep the local boards. The other major option would be to follow the state's preferred model and merge the SU into a single school district, which would be represented by a single board.
Committee Chairwoman Jackie Prue, who is one of the representatives from Bennington, began by pointing out all of the services that the SVSU has already consolidated, including the business office, special education, transportation, teacher contracts, food service, legal services, policies, curriculum development, and professional development.
Bennington representative George Sleeman said his position was that they should seek approval for the alternative structure, to keep the integrity of the local boards, but that he thought the SU should still see if any more cost-saving consolidations could be made. "We've got until 2018, and if we can't make a strong presentation, there's something wrong with us down here," he said.
The final Bennington representative on the board, Ken Swierad, discussed some possibilities for further consolidation. He suggested that support staff, such as paraeducators, be brought under the umbrella of the SVSU, rather than being employees of individual school districts, which would allow them to be moved from school to school as needed. Currently, only special education paraeducators are SVSU employees. He also suggested that building maintenance could be consolidated by hiring a single maintenance director for the SU, rather than individual directors for each building, as well as hiring maintenance staff who could perform preventative maintenance year-round, which could be cheaper than hiring outside contractors every time something breaks. Pownal representative Jim O'Connor seconded the idea of hiring a central maintenance director.
North Bennington representative Matthew Patterson said the Legislature had been pressured into pushing Act 46 through by "various interest groups," and was now suffering the consequences of that haste. "If we had a law that we could all get wrapped around, and it was solid, and we could respond to it in the way they're asking us to? But no. Every week its something different, a mistake, or, oh, we calculated that wrong ... and then they passed that change to the penalties after all budgets had gone to print? It's like a clown car."