Final school board meetings cover consolidation, playgrounds


BENNINGTON -- The Mount Anthony Union and Pownal Elementary School Boards met on Wednesday night for their final meetings of the school year.

In Pownal, representative Bill Botzow was present to answer the board's questions regarding the legislative session and the controversial bill H.883, which would have consolidated the school districts in Vermont in an effort to make the state's education system more efficient. The bill passed the house, but stalled in the senate, before the legislative session eventually ended. Botzow explained that, effectively, the bill would have to start from scratch during the next session.

Board Member Jim O'Connor said that he had asked that a discussion on H.883 be placed on the agenda in order to give the board to state their opinions on the bill, which he felt had been pushed through the legislature so quickly that local boards hadn't had time to react. He passed out yellow slips of paper to all the board members, which asked if they would oppose any legislation that would either dissolve the Pownal school board or, in O'Connor's words "seize" the Pownal Elementary School, which the words "Yes" or "No" to be circled. None of the board members were comfortable making such a blanket statement, although chairwoman Cindy Brownell was sympathetic, and told O'Connor, "I see what you're trying to do here." The motion to have board members make a statement by filling out the survey did not receive a second, and was tabled.

Botzow said that while he felt there were many improvements to be made to the bill, he had voted to send it to the senate because he felt that it was a necessary conversation to have. "There has not been a major change in school government in Vermont in 100 years," he said. "The question we should be asking," he said, "Is how do we best provide the education our young people need, and how do we do that for value?"

O'Connor agreed that there needed to be changes, as, in his words, Vermont pays almost twice as much as other states for education, but gets worse results. However, he said, "This bill would have just thrown out the window 100 years of the way that we do things!"

Brownell asked Botzow if he could request, during the next legislative session, that hearings on the new bill be held in the southwestern part of the state. "We shouldn't be forgotten," she said, "Our views are important."

The meeting began on a lighter note, as members of Taylor Robinson's third grade class presented their reports on Gary Paulsen's book, "Brian's Winter," the story of a boy who survived in the wilderness after a plane crash. "This time of year, it's very hard to keep the students motivated," Robinson joked, before inviting the four students to individually stand in front of the board and make their presentations. "Would you recommend the book?" Brownell asked one of them, who promptly responded, "Yeah!"

The Pownal board also heard from the school's Head Start program, who informed them that a federal inspector had told them that several pieces of playground equipment, including the caterpillar, did not meet today's federal safety standards. It was unclear what age groups the equipment was deemed to be unacceptable for, but the board erred on the side of caution, voting 4-1 to take down the equipment in question as soon as possible. Brownell asked principal Todd Phillips to inquire about selling some of the pieces for scrap, if possible.

Later that night, in Bennington, the board introduced next year's student representative, Morgan Howlett, who will be replacing this year's rep, Nathaniel Durfee, who graduated last week. Howlett said she is a member of the National and Spanish Honors Societies, and is very active in many groups and activities at the school. Howlett will be a senior next year.

Included in the meeting's consent agenda were five staff resignations, although one was resigning from one position to accept another within the school. High school English teacher Ann DeCiccio said in her letter, "I have truly enjoyed my five years teaching the students here and working with the staff. I am sincerely grateful for everything you have done for me." Michelle Blazek, high school science teacher, also thanked principal Sue Maguire, saying, "I would like to thank you for the opportunity to teach here at MAU. My experiences here have hepled me to become a dedicated teacher whose main goal is to educate and help students to the best of my ability. I will forever look back on my seven years at MAU with fond memories and be appreciative to you for taking a chance on me in 2008." Other resignations included Quantum Leap Tutor Sean McEntee and Bonnie Baratta, behavior intervention specialist at the middle school.

At the close of the meeting, chairman Tim Holbrook asked that it be put into the minutes that the MAU board appreciates the work that retiring superintendent Catherine McClure and assistant superintendent Donna Leep had done for the schools over the last several years. "The board appreciates the work that Catherine and Donna did for MAU, and we wish them the best in the future," he said.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB


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