ARLINGTON >> The Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union hosted a public forum on Wednesday to give an update on progress under Act 46.
The BVSU has been working with state Act 46 consultant Steve Sanborn to find the best path toward coming into compliance with last year's education consolidation law. "Act 46 focuses not so much on schools, but on the administration of schools," Sanborn explained, "They wanted to look at education and come up with sustainable structures for education across Vermont."
"One thing I can say about Battenkill Valley is, the state says it's too small, and something has to be done. That's the context the school board has been working through as we talk in this early study that we did," said Sanborn.
He said that Sandgate, which makes up the BVSU along with Arlington, has joined a study committee with the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union. As for Arlington, he said, the school system is faced with several possibilities. "I know there's some interest in Shaftsbury, some unification there, and there's also some interest in Arlington doing a self-study, continuing to be their own school district, and maybe moving north to join Bennington-Rutland," he said.
Arlington School Board Chairman Gerald Woodard expressed concern about joining a larger group, such as the BRSU, as it would lead to Arlington school officials having less of a voice and less control over their own affairs. He noted that he was on the board when it voted to leave the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union in 1988; he said that decision was made in large part because of feelings that Arlington did not have enough of a voice, and that important decisions took too long to be made.
Vice-Chairwoman Nicol Whalen described one possible scenario in which Arlington could retain a voice, as a side-by-side district with the BRSU. "We would still have an Arlington school board that would continue to operate our K-12. We would not have the BVSU, which operates special education, finance, central office, transportation, etc." She said those functions would be consolidated into the BRSU.
Dan French, superintendent of the BRSU, was also on hand at the meeting. "We have nine districts, and no high school. As we engaged with Act 46, we realized pretty quickly that it was going to be difficult to form a single school district out of that, because among the nine school districts, there are very few that match up. On one hand we have Winhall, that is a non-operating K-12 district that operates no schools whatsoever. On the other hand we have a district like Manchester that has a K through eight school and has choice nine through 12. So, we have trouble hooking those districts up under Act 46."
French said the assumption from the beginning was that the BRSU would continue to exist as a supervisory union, just with fewer districts internally. He said the current plan is to go from nine districts to three. The first would include non-operating district Winhall, along with potential partners Sandgate and Stratton, which are not currently in the BRSU. The second would be made up of Pawlet, Rupert and Wells, three districts that have arrangements to send their students to New York high schools. The final district, which would make up the remainder of the towns in the BRSU, would operate kindergarten through eight, and be school choice nine through 12.
"If Arlington were to fit into this SU structure, it would be the only standalone K-12 district. That's fine, you can have districts with different enrollment options under the same supervisory union," French said.
In that scenario, each of the four districts would have its own board, along with a single SU board.
Should Shaftsbury and Arlington wish to pursue a partnership, they would need to move quickly, and there are some potential roadblocks associated with Shaftsbury leaving the Mount Anthony Union District, according to SVSU Superintendent Jim Culkeen. "For Shaftsbury, if they want to consider leaving the SU and Mount Anthony," he said last week, "they would have to consult legal counsel and arrange for a townwide vote as soon as possible that they wish to withdraw from MAU. They have to go first, that's how the process works. If the town approves it, then the vote has to go to all the individual towns, to allow them to leave. If one town says no, it's done. That would have to be completed by July of 2017."
If Arlington and Shaftsbury were to merge into a single district, they would still have the option to join the BVSU, as Arlington and Shaftsbury together would not have the required number of students to make up their own district under Act 46. Shaftsbury board member Jeff Leake, who was in the audience, said Shaftsbury has about 180 middle and high school students. Woodard noted that, if that merger did happen, Arlington would have to significantly re-structure its middle and high school to allow for the increase in students.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.