NORTH BENNINGTON >> With their positions still unclear, the North Bennington and Shaftsbury school boards continue to search for solutions to how to come into compliance with Act 46.
Districts of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union have been mostly on their own since the SU's formal study committee dissolved over a month ago, save for a widely attended public forum at the Bennington Fire Station, which included representatives from the Agency of Education. The SVSU board voted at their September meeting to form a new, informal committee to study consolidation options. The first meeting of that committee has been scheduled for Tuesday Oct. 18, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Southwestern Vermont Career Development Center, according to the SVSU calendar.
In North Bennington, Bruce Lierman, who chairs its informal study committee, said that things are in limbo for the village. "We're still proceeding on three fronts, the first being a legal challenge," he said. He said he'd also been approached by State Senator Brian Campion, who is working with Donna Russo Savage, one of the principal architects of the law, to form a legislative coalition to address some of the negative effects the 2015 legislation is having on small districts.
The second front, he said, would be to continue working with the SVSU committee. "There are a couple of things that really came to light or became more public in the last week or so," he said, "Going over the presentation that Donna Russo Savage made at the forum (at the Bennington Fire Station), it's clear that several of the strategies that were being discussed by the district are subject to later revision by the State Board of Education as part of making the state-wide plan... Basically if you are proposing anything that results in more than one board, or does not involve a governance structure that includes full pre-K through 12 governance in one unit, you'll be subject to possible reorganization. That basically means we have no options in the governance structures that have been promoted by the board that wouldn't be subject to later revision."
"There are no guarantees that if we went through the trouble of coming up with a governance arrangement with the SU that resulted in two or three boards, that it wouldn't be subject to later revision," he continued, "So it brings up the question of whether those are really worth the effort." He also pointed out that none of the options presented by Savage would allow North Bennington to expand its school choice to grades 7 through 12.
The third front, which would allow them to expand choice, would be to leave the Mount Anthony Union School District. This would require several community votes: First of North Bennington to approve withdrawing, then of each other MAU member community. If any of those votes failed, North Bennington would not be permitted to leave the district. Lierman said that North Bennington would need to produce data showing advantages to other communities in allowing them to leave to ensure that those votes would pass.
Meanwhile, Shaftsbury plans to hold a meeting with the Arlington School Board to discuss merger options the week of Oct. 24, although the exact date has not yet been set. Shaftsbury resident Barry Mayer, who organized the first of what he hopes will be several community forums, criticized the board for not participating actively in community discussions on Act 46. "I'm disappointed in the interest that the town has shown," he said, who said that no members of the Shaftsbury School Board were at either the Bennington forum or his forum. "We had 22 people there. It was the best showing we ever had. How many board members were there?"
Chairman Fran Kinney said that he's become frustrated with the lack of progress. "I'm sick of it, because nothing ever happens and no one wants to commit to anything," he said, "I keep aware of them, but I don't want to waste any more time going to meetings where nothing happens."
The North Bennington Prudential Committee meets the second Wednesday of every month in the library at the Village School of North Bennington. Full recordings of their meetings are available on Catamount Access Television, and on the station's YouTube page.
The Shaftsbury School Board meets the second Wednesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. in the library at Shaftsbury Elementary School. Full recordings of their meetings are available on Catamount Access Television, and on the station's YouTube page.
Contact Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.