POWNAL — As with other district boards, the Pownal School Board has found its Act 46 situation thrown up in the air by Bennington's decision to explore leaving the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union and creating their own independent district.
Jim O'Connor, who represents the Pownal board on the SVSU's Act 46 study committee, gave his board an update on what the other boards are doing, saying, "Act 46 has gotten all screwed up. Bennington School District has threatened to secede from the supervisory union and go off on their own. MAU has threatened or voted to leave Mount Anthony Union (clarification: The North Bennington Prudential Committee is considering withdrawing from the Mount Anthony Union District and could seek to form a full choice K-12 district, which would help them find better partners under Act 46.). Shaftsbury is poking around for different partners, Arlington and stuff like that."
"The purpose of Act 46," he continued, "was to bring all the school districts together to form a bigger supervisory union. What's happened in the past few weeks in southern Vermont, they're using unexpected consequences of Act 46 to re-shuffle the deck and do other things. So at the moment, and this is Jim O'Connor's opinion, I would call it a little bit chaotic. Instead of coming together we're breaking up. As of right now Pownal has not sought any partners."
"They cannot do that until all the districts vote for it," said chairwoman Cindy Brownell on Bennington leaving the SU, "So I'm really not too concerned about that."
Board member Tammy Sohl asked if the SU breaking apart could be an opportunity for Pownal to get its own buses back. The secretary of education, Rebecca Holcombe, has ordered Pownal to stop operating its own buses and join the SU's transportation contract with Dufour Tours as of the end of this fiscal year, or they will face significant financial penalties. "Normally," Brownell responded, "I would say yes, but it this point it's all hearsay. I'm going to leave, I'm going to do this, I'm going to take my ball and go to the corner... But I think, dealing with the secretary of education on two different occasions, she is going to say no, no matter what you say to her."
"This board knows that we have fought for 18 months to keep our buses," she continued, "and if there is anything we can do save them (we'll do it), even if we've relinquished our rights for this year."
The next meeting of the Act 46 study committee has not yet been warned. Bennington is the only town that has not yet been visited by the committee.
The Pownal Elementary School Board meets the third Wednesday of every month at 5:30 p.m. in the Pownal Elementary School library. Full recordings of their meetings are available on Catamount Access Television, and on the station's YouTube page.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.