Prue to chair Section 9 committee

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BENNINGTON — School board members have appointed Jackie Prue to spearhead the creation of its report under Section 9 of Act 46, though there remains disagreement among the board as to the district's best path forward.

At Wednesday night's regular board meeting, Chairman Chris Murphy raised the question of whether Woodford's decision to warn a re-vote for Jan. 9 would have any affect on the BSD's writing of the Section 9 report, which are required to be submitted to the Agency of Education by the board of each un-merged district. If Woodford votes 'yes,' the merger proposal will be considered passed and will go into effect in July 2019. However, the Section 9 reports are due on Dec. 26, prior to the Woodford vote.

"Word from (the Agency of Education is), if there is going to be a re-vote and there is a — and I don't know who said this originally, these are just the words that I've heard — 'reasonable expectation' that the merger will pass at the re-vote, then you do not have to submit your Section 9 proposal," said Murphy. "I don't think it's safe to assume that the merger will be approved, so I think we still need to move forward with the Section 9. So, that raises the question of what do we put in our Section 9 proposal."

The reports must detail the following, according to the Agency of Education's website: "An evaluation of the district's current ability to meet the five goals of Act 46; A description of meeting with the boards of one or more other districts to discuss ways to promote improvement throughout the region in connection with the goals of Act 46; and A proposal submitted to the Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education that proposes that the district either maintains its current structure, works with other districts to form a different governance structure, or enter into another model of joint activity."

Murphy said that, because a majority of the board and a majority of voters favored the merger proposal that was voted on in November, one option would be to simply attach the Articles of Agreement from that merger proposal and indicate to the AOE that the board felt that those articles represent the best path forward.

"I think that has its risks," he said, "because who knows what will come of that. The other school of thought is, we do our best to propose that what we have (currently) works, and that's what we submit to AOE."

Before opening up discussion on the issue, he proposed that Jackie Prue — who along with member George Sleeman voted against warning the November merger vote — be the one to lead the ad-hoc committee charged with drafting the report, which would then need to be approved by school board members.

Prue said that she felt that, with the tax incentives for merging now apparently off the table, Bennington should have the opportunity to re-vote as well, as some may have voted in favor of the proposal for the incentives.

"There's no incentives," she said. "And without the incentives it's a different vote... They're opening themselves up for a huge legal mess."

Under Vermont state law, votes are considered official after 30 days, which is the deadline for submitting petitions for reconsideration of votes. Woodford warned its re-vote on Dec. 6, 29 days after the vote.

When board member Dan Monks indicated that he would not vote in support of a Section 9 proposal that supported maintaining the current governance structure, Prue said: "Chris, I am not going to spend two weeks writing up a Section 9 if this board is not going to vote to accept it... I don't mind chairing a committee, but if its for nothing, I don't want to do it."

"I don't think we can say whether it would be for nothing or if it would result in something we could support without seeing the report," Murphy said.

"We have to submit a report to the state board and Agency of Education that proposes one of three things," Monks said. "To retain its current governance structure: I know how I stand on that. To work with other districts to form another governance structure: That's going to take some time and maybe we just refer to what we've already done. And the third is to enter into another model of joint activity. This is something where we have to make a decision, and as a board we have to support it."

Prue, Sleeman, and Meridy Capella will make up the committee, which will submit their work to the full board at a special meeting within the next two weeks. Chaila Sekora agreed to be the alternate.

Capella said that her view of the situation is that the Section 9 report should reflect what their constituents want.

Member Jackie Kelly suggested reaching out to Shaftsbury, the other town that voted to support the proposal, when crafting the report.

The board tentatively scheduled their meeting for next Thursday, Dec. 14, at 6 p.m. at Molly Stark Elementary.

Derek Carson can be reached at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.

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