NORTH BENNINGTON — A week after the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Act 46 Merger Study Committee disbanded, districts are beginning to plan their next moves.
Superintendent Jim Culkeen said that the discussion forum that had been scheduled for next Tuesday will probably not take place, as consultant Steve Sanborn has informed the SVSU that he will not continue to work with them until they have a clearer direction.
"One of the thoughts last week was to keep meeting in a forum format," said Superintendent Jim Culkeen, "but I received word earlier this week that our consultant is no longer going to work with us. He hasn't ruled out working with us in the future, but in that format he feels he can't be that useful to us. The plan was to have him lead that discussion next Tuesday, so we're a little in limbo. I might go out two weeks to see if I can get someone to talk to the group, either from the Vermont School Board Association, or the Superintendents Association, or the (Agency of Education) to discuss what options there are out there, and what options stand a chance of being accepted by the Secretary of Education."
In North Bennington, the Prudential Committee held a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss their options, after they were freed from the SVSU committee by its disbanding. They talked about leaving the Mount Anthony Union District, which is the next step they must take if they would like to partner with a district outside the SVSU. Leaving the MAU requires a vote from each member community. If even a single one fails, they will be forced to stay in the district.
"You might ask, what does it mean to leave the MAU," said Matthew Patterson, chairman of the North Bennington Prudential Committee, "and the answer is, not much. Those numbers need to be worked out, and we're not getting any help from anywhere looking at the numbers, but what we know for sure is that we're not getting out of any obligation that we have to the MAU. Nor would we intend to. We would pay any bond, any liability that we have. The end of the game implication of the North Bennington Graded School District voting to get out of MAU is to help us realize our potential and meet the conditions of Act 46, which we can't do in our current system."
"If we have an affirmative vote to leave MAU, and the four other districts vote to allow us out, because it allows them to move ahead with what they want to do, and help them maybe more rapidly help them attaint the tax incentives that are being offered, it's still up to the State Board of Education decide if it makes sense to them. We can't see how it could not, because it solves everybody's problems at once down here with regards to these disjointed choice configurations. We would then be instantly a K-12 choice district, and we would have to find a supervisory union to be a part of."
Patterson said that the district's most likely partner will be the Manchester-based Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union. "They already will have formed, we think, a multiple configuration side-by-side, one of which has about five districts already in a K-12 choice configuration," he said, "That all seems kind of straightforward, in terms of what we've expressed as what we want as a community, and it seems to satisfy what the state wants with respect to consolidating."
"If that all happened, and we joined the SU, we'd no longer be a district," Patterson continued, "We will lose our district, we would become part of a massive district — a massive land area district, not a very large district. It would be Stratton, Winhall, Searsburg, and Sandgate." He said, in terms of MAU, that it was likely that some students would likely utilize their new choice for grades 7-12 to attend a different school. He said those students would likely represent only a "drop in the bucket" of MAU's total student population.
Contact Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.