Deadline extended for new union district board

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The deadline to file petitions for seats on the initial board of the Southwest Vermont Union Elementary School district has been extended to March 18, in light of legal guidance that this date would still fit in a tight merger timeline.

"March 18 is completely acceptable; that's still 30 days before [the vote]," said Derek Carson, public information coordinator for the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union. "It's just to give people more time to get petitions."

The election of initial board members will be held April 23, per a vote of the transitional board at its first meeting Feb. 26.

The transitional board, which currently governs the district, will disband after the initial board is elected and sworn in. The next transitional board meeting has also been moved from March 11 to March 18, as the purpose of the meeting is to warn the ballot for the election of initial board members.

At least four members of their respective school district boards have already filed papers seeking seats on the initial board of the new district, continuing the governance process for the district that must become operational July 1.

Each town will have two seats on the initial board, with terms ranging from one to three years.

Chris Murphy, currently a member of the Bennington School District board, has taken out papers for a two-year seat on the board for Bennington. He is also chairman of the transitional board.

The other seat for Bennington, which is for one year, has no petitions filed yet, said Cassandra Barbeau, Bennington town clerk.

Tony D'Onofrio and Scott McEnaney have filed petitions to represent Shaftsbury on the board. D'Onofrio is seeking a three-year seat, and McEnaney is seeking a two-year seat.

Both are members of the Shaftsbury school district board.

Dick Frantz, a member of the Woodford board, has filed a petition for a one-year seat representing Woodford.

The town also has a two-year seat on the board.

The Banner wasn't able to confirm by press time if anyone has yet filed papers in Pownal.

Individuals will be elected to fill those seats by a vote of the entire union district, according to the Articles of Agreement for the new district.

The board members will represent their towns but will be elected by the entire electorate, similar to how the Mount Anthony Union board is elected today, Carson has previously said.

Candidates seeking seats on the new union district board must file a statement of nomination signed by at least 30 voters in that town or one percent of the legal voters in that town, whichever is less, according to the Articles of Agreement for the new district.

The two-seat-per-town representation model could be changed only by a majority of voters of the new union district, present and voting at an annual or special meeting of the district to address the issue.

"There's been talk among some current board members about changing the makeup of the board," Carson said. "Some people are dissatisfied with the 2-2-2 model. They think Bennington should have more representation, because it makes up more of the student population."

The transitional board met for the first time Feb. 26 after the organizational meeting of the district; Jackie Prue, Ed Molloy, Tammy Sohl, Cindy Brownell, Frantz, McEnaney and Murphy were all sworn in. Mark Tilley, chairman of the Woodford board, was absent.

All transitional board members are clerks or chairpeople of their respective district boards.

The board voted to appoint Murphy as board chairman, McEnaney as clerk, and Brownell as vice chairwoman.

The board also voted to warn a special meeting for April 23 to elect initial board members.

"Because that's still going to put us to the middle of June before we can vote on the budget," said Prue, who made the motion.

After the initial board is elected, but before July 1, a special meeting will be held to approve the new district's budget for fiscal 2020, which includes the upcoming school year, Carson said.

At the Feb. 26 meeting, the transitional board also reviewed the third draft of a prepared fiscal 2020 budget for the new union district, and considered the proposed $23.2 million budget.

Essentially, the budgets of each individual forming school district have been piled together, said Renee Gordon, director of finance and operations for the SVSU.

"It's combining everything," she said.

Estimated homestead tax rates under this budget range from $1.29 per $100 of assessed property value for Shaftsbury to $1.47 for Bennington.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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