ARLINGTON -- Residents of Arlington and Sandgate may be asked to vote on the future of their school districts this spring, as two education consultants are expected to present findings in April from a state-mandated study of the dissolution of Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union, after which voters will be asked to react, possibly through a non-binding vote.
BVSU -- with two schools and fewer than 400 students, the smallest of more than 60 Vermont supervisory unions -- was directed in May 2010 to study the impacts of dissolving. At that time Arlington and Sandgate School Districts were told to choose between Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union in Bennington or Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union in Sunderland. Education Secretary Armando Vilaseca has since said maintaining the current structure is an option if it proves to be the most beneficial; however, he believes there are significant financial and educational efficiencies to be gained by reducing the number of supervisory unions in the state.
State board has authority
Ultimately the State Board of Education has authority to assign school districts to supervisory unions, so a community vote would not by itself decide the outcome. It may, however, give weight as the state board considers if it wants to dissolve BVSU. The state board has never dissolved a supervisory union against its will. However, it had never mandated a dissolution study prior to asking BVSU to do one, either.
"I would like it to be a community vote so that way I know exactly where the community wants us to push this," Arlington Chairman Todd Wilkins said. "They may say they want to stay in BVSU and the state may say that’s not going to happen. That will give us guidelines that the majority of our community wants us to fight (a mandated decision by the state). Or the community may say we want you to go north or south."
Last spring BVSU hired Peter Mello and John Stempek to outline what its options are, and the two are now beginning a more in-depth study of the educational and financial impacts of consolidation. The consultants along with school officials met with the superintendents of BRSU and SVSU earlier this month to begin gathering information.
Wilkins, who attended both meetings, said the interactions gave everybody insight about the education offered in those supervisory unions, similarities the districts have, and the impact on those supervisory unions if they absorbed two new districts.
"The consultants were leading it and directing the questions because they needed information. We just felt it was a good idea that both sides had some board members there to make sure we heard it first-hand," Wilkins said in an interview last week.
The consultants will have follow-up conversations with officials of supervisory unions to get more details on the business management side of things so they can do a full assessment of what the financial implications of consolidating would be.
BVSU currently contracts all of its financial services from SVSU and also shares some special education services with both supervisory unions.
Wilkins said by April the consultants should complete a fact-finding report identifying the pros and cons of each option and by May the intention is to have a public presentation for residents on the information that is gathered.
"I think the intention is to educate the public of what (the options are) and then hear what they have to say," Wilkins said, "because this is a bigger decision and we felt that this is a community decision, not a school board decision."
A report is required to be submitted to the state board at its June 2013 meeting.
At numerous meetings being directed to do the study members of the BVSU school board, administrators, and members of the public have voiced a desire to stay put. Wilkins has been among the most vocal to defend the benefits of a small supervisory union over the past two and a half years, however he said speaking with the neighboring superintendents did help put him at ease if the consolidation is mandated.
"My opinion is still I want to stay in BVSU, although I will say that I feel a lot better now, meeting with the superintendents about how our school will align with the supervisory unions if for some reason we are forced to go there," Wilkins said. "But my opinion is I still want to stay in BVSU if we can."
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