Study committee recommends independent BVSU
The Arlington board met this Wednesday to discuss and vote on the proposal, but the results of that vote were not available as of press time.
This July, group of citizens formed a group to study the implications of Act 46 on the Arlington schools and what potential paths forward could be under the law. They also decided to take advantage of the Act 46 discussions to take a hard look at what the schools are currently doing well, what could be improved, and what could be enhanced, and how those things should affect how the district looks at its opportunities under Act 46. That self-study committee was represented at last week's meeting by Arlington parent Kate Bryan, who in the past worked at the Maple Street School in Manchester.
"What they have undertaken is an incredible amount of work," said Arlington School Board Chairwoman Nicol Whalen. "It can be a quagmire, at times, of data, and they have been diligent and focused."
The self-study committee's report put forth that joining either the BRSU or the SVSU would not save the district any money, and could in fact increase the cost to the community, while hindering its ability to meet the educational goals laid out in Act 77, the Flexible Pathways Act. The full report is available on the BVSU website.
If the study committee's report is submitted as a Section 9 report under Act 46, the State Board of Education could decide to follow Arlington's recommendation that the BVSU continue to operate independently, or it could consider placing Arlington under the umbrella of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory District, to the north.
"Now, we are on the path to become part of the BRSU," said Whalen at the start of the community forum. She said that the board is not considering merging the Arlington School District with another district, nor is it considering closing schools. "That's not on the table, that's not what we're talking about. We need to determine, with input from the committee, whether the BVSU would meet the criteria for an alternative structure under Act 46 to justify a path other than becoming part of the BRSU."
Part of the committee's task was to draft a strategic mission for the school district moving forward, which Bryan read at last week's meeting. "We prepare children for life, we nurture individuality, we teach good citizenship by example, we demand accountability and the hard work that leads to achievement, we focus on resilience, we collaborate with parents, local businesses, and our community to create personalized pathways for student learning. With its rich history and natural setting, we make all of Arlington our campus. By graduation, each student can proudly say, I became the best version of myself."
The study committee also said in its report that North Bennington board has indicated a strong interest in becoming a pre-K through 12 non-operating district and joining the BVSU, and will be including that in its own Section 9 report. Matthew Patterson of the North Bennington board said on Wednesday that that is one option that his board has discussed, as it would appear to open a pathway for North Bennington to achieving full school choice, rather than just in pre-K through sixth grade, and give the SVSU, if it so desires, the ability to form a supervisory district. Patterson said they hope to have that report finalized by next week, but that it is too soon to comment on its specific contents.
As the law is currently structured, North Bennington would need to have a community vote to leave the Mount Anthony Union School District. Then, each other community in the MAU district would need to vote to allow them to leave.
"When Act 46 came out, and they were looking at preferred structures, we didn't have merger possibilities, at least that were geographically connected to us," said Whalen. "We did talk to Rutland-Southwest, they are similar in demographics, similar in size, similar in school structure. We did talk to them and ultimately, as a school board decided... no. So, we didn't go down that route."
She said the board also met with representatives from Shaftsbury and North Bennington, who were each exploring their options outside of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, but nothing came of those talks, in part due to the difficulty either district would have faced in extricating themselves from the MAU. "Without them being outside of MAU, there was no conversation for them to have with Arlington," she said.
After those initial overtures went nowhere, Arlington began to look at the possibility of remaining as a standalone district. Because the Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union, the smallest in the state according to Whalen, was not large enough the stand on its own under Act 46, the board began discussing alternative structures with the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union.
"The question on the table was then, do we want to become a part of the BRSU or do we want to become part of the SVSU," said Whalen. "We held a community forum and received some input from the community, and at that point in time, and this was before Act 49 (of 2017, which provided certain districts more flexibility in complying with Act 46), that was our path forward, to join the BRSU. That's where we were going. But Act 49 changed that a little bit. It provided some different governance structure options."
One of those options was to join in a three-by-one structure with the non-operating districts of Sandgate, Stratton, and Winhall. However, when those three districts decided that it was not in the best interests of those districts to pursue a merger, Arlington was left was again looking at becoming part of the BRSU as a standalone district.
Whalen thanked the over 50 members of the public who attended last week's forum. "I didn't know if we'd have 10 people or 50 people," she said. "But it's great... that we've had a lot of people turn out. It's wonderful to see this commitment to our community and this commitment to our schools. We're grateful that there is this kind of support."
Derek Carson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.
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