SVSU asked to consider adding Arlington, Sandgate

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ARLINGTON — The state Board of Education may take action as early as next week concerning a possible redrawing of supervisory union boundaries with the potential to affect both Arlington and Sandgate school districts.

Oliver Olsen, a member of the state board, suggested that the Arlington and Sandgate districts be moved into the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union at an Oct. 29 meeting.

Krista Huling, chairwoman of the state board, said the idea came about as part of a discussion about what could be done with the Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union, which includes Arlington and Sandgate. Huling also brought up assigning those districts to the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union.

The BVSU is one of the smallest in the state, so the state board has long considered reassigning it to another supervisory union, Huling said.

"I think it was merely a suggestion in in a much larger conversation," Huling said of Olsen's suggestion.

The state board has asked Secretary of Education Dan French to provide recommendations concerning Arlington and Sandgate at the next meeting Nov. 15. Then, it's "certainly a possibility" that the state board may take action, Huling said.

Jim Culkeen, superintendent of the SVSU, brought up the suggestion at the Bennington School District's regular meeting Wednesday, seeking the board's opinion. Board members expressed dismay about the possibility.

French has asked for the SVSU's feedback on that possibility, Culkeen said. In an email, he said he plans to forward SVSU board members' responses to French by the end of the week.

At Wednesday's meeting, Culkeen described the suggestion as a "ninth-inning curveball" from the Board of Education.

Across Vermont, districts are coming to the end of a multi-year process in connection with Act 46, enacted in 2015, as the state board must issue a final statewide plan in connection with the act by the end of the month. The act identified the preferred school governance model as a unified union school district responsible for the pre-K to grade 12 education of its resident students. The act also created three phases of voluntary school district merger and one non-voluntary phase, to be mandated by the Board of Education.

Then-Acting Secretary of Education Heather Bouchey recommended in a report, called Section 10, that the Pownal, Bennington, Shaftsbury, and Woodford districts be merged into a grade pre-K to six union elementary school district. The existing Mount Anthony Union School District, for grades 7 to 12, and the North Bennington School District would not be merged.

Redrawing supervisory union boundaries is separate from merging school districts, and that redrawing authority exists outside of Act 46.

William Bazyk, superintendent of the Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union, which includes Arlington and Sandgate, said he doesn't have enough information about that possibility of becoming part of the SVSU to have an opinion on it.

"For me, as superintendent, it's something new that I have to study," he said. "We have never even considered joining the SVSU. It's something new that we have to take a look at, see how it fits."

He said it's possible the districts could work well with the SVSU, but he doesn't have enough information to even provide a recommendation to his school board.

"I'm just saying — we've never even talked with the SVSU about how it would work," he said.

The Arlington and Sandgate school districts always knew that they would likely have to be part of another supervisory union, as they're part of an extremely small one now, he said. But they had requested in 2016 that if the supervisory union boundaries had to be adjusted, they would like to be part of the BRSU starting July 1, 2021, Bazyk said.

But the BRSU board expressed opposition to adding any more school districts to its current configuration at an emergency meeting Tuesday night.

The Section 10 report also says that Arlington and Sandgate should become part of that SU, Bazyk said.

That report provides recommendations for governing school districts and groups of districts in the state that have not merged, in connection with Act 46.

The report does suggest that the Arlington and Sandgate districts could be assigned to the BRSU as part of supervisory union boundary reassigning.

But, that section of the report "was just brainstorming a bunch of ideas," said Donna Russo-Savage, an attorney on staff with the state Agency of Education.

"It wasn't a proposal of any sort," she said. "The state board has independent authority to consider adjusting boundaries in any way it chooses."

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


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