Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union Merger Fails!
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The FNESW merger proposal failed in all five towns. The failure prevents any merger from taking place. We'll have more details in this week's Courier.
All town's balloting ended at 7:00.
Bakersfield: 99 no - 89 yes.
Berkshire: 113 No - 78 Yes.
Enosburgh: 158 no - 82 yes.
Montgomery: 219 no - 52 yes.
Richford: 207 no - 60 yes.
by Chris Tormey, Cabot School Board Chair
School Board Update: Working with Act 46 May 2016
Since January the Cabot School Board has met regularly with members of the school boards of Danville School and Twinfield School to determine if forming a larger, consolidated school district would potentially benefit our Cabot students. From those discussions we’ve found that there may indeed be educational benefits from consolidation, but whether and exactly how our districts may consolidate is at this point far from clear.
Act 46 requires that small school districts across Vermont research the benefits of forming larger school districts with neighboring districts. The law’s stated objectives include improving the educational opportunities available to Vermont students and the fiscal sustainability of Vermont schools.
Should a school district like ours determine that forming a new, consolidated district would be beneficial, the plan for the new district must be approved by the Vermont State Board of Education and Cabot voters by July 2017. If our school district determines, however, that continuing to operate a preK-12 school on its own as the Cabot School District holds greater benefit for our students and community, Act 46 requires that a plan detailing how Cabot School plans, on its own, to meet the goals of Act 46 must be approved by the State Board of Education.
Our board hosted a forum on March 30 to update community members on the results of our discussions with the Twinfield and Danville boards and administrators and to gather feedback. We highlighted that evening how the strengths of our three schools might potentially benefit our students, and suggested some ways that student grades might be brought together in a merged district to realize those benefits. In the discussion that followed there was a good deal of interest in making the varied opportunities across the three districts available to all students (especially at the high school level) but there was also concern raised about Cabot’s elementary students potentially being taught at Twinfield as part of a new, consolidated district. For interested community members who were not able to attend the forum, there is a copy of the slide presentation and feedback from the forum posted on the Cabot School web site (CabotSchool.org).
Since the community forum in March, our board has met twice jointly with both the Danville and Twinfield school boards to gauge interest in merging all three of our districts together. At the first joint meeting much of the discussion centered on the potential tax benefits that would result from consolidation, especially during the first four years when state-awarded incentives were in place. Although it’s difficult at this early stage to accurately predict how a new, merged district would affect the annual tax bills of property-tax payers in the four towns over the long term, it’s certain that the state’s incentives would reduce the Equalized Homestead tax rate by 8, 6, 4, and 2 cents in the first four years, respectively, that the new district is operating.
Our second joint meeting with Twinfield and Danville included discussion on potential configurations of students and grades in a new, single district of close to 800 students. We looked at a number of configurations, but at this point are far from consensus.
As Cabot board members, we have been engaged in these discussions to see what benefits some form of merger might have for our students, while mindful at the same time of the changes that would result from Cabot entering into a consolidated school district with one or two larger districts. Since the voting members of the new board that would govern the new enlarged district are allocated according to census population, Cabot would likely have two members on a new, ten- member board, with four members each from Danville and Twinfield.
The next step in this process, if the school boards involved decide to move forward in their discussions, is to form a formal “706” Study Committee to research and possibly lay out the Articles of Agreement guiding the formation of a new merged district (that’s the plan that will eventually have to be approved by the State Board of Education and put out to the voters for approval before July 2017).
Given our concerns about the impact of our limited Cabot representation on this 706 Study Committee (also 2 out of 10) as well as our diminished control over the cost and substance of our Cabot students’ education in the governing board of a new, consolidated district, our board seriously considered calling a halt to our merger discussions at this point and devoting our energies instead to crafting a plan for submission to the State Board of Education detailing how we plan to meet the goals of Act 46 continuing to function as the Cabot School district. At our last meeting, however, we decided after much discussion that we should continue our conversations with Danville and Twinfield within this next-stage “706 Committee”, as part of our overall interest in determining if some new configuration with other districts might hold benefit for our Cabot students. Should a plan be eventually produced by this 706 Committee that does not appear to be in the best interest of our Cabot students and community, we would at that time have the option of developing an alternate plan (by which the Cabot School District would continue independently) to submit to the State Board of Education for approval.
At the time of this article’s writing, it’s not clear if Danville and Twinfield are interested in continuing these discussions by forming this 706 Committee. Assuming that they are, we would likely select two of our board members to serve on it. If the committee is formed, it would probably begin its meetings this summer. We will keep you posted via the Cabot School website and Front Porch Forum on the dates and times.
If you have specific questions or concerns about this important process, please contact a member of our Cabot School Board.
Chair, Cabot School Board
The Roxbury Experience
by John Guiffre, Roxbury and WSSU Board chair
Roxbury's path toward a 706 study last summer and fall was derailed by AOE in December. We had intended for a 706 study with Orange and Washington (both prek -8) districts to become a district in a side by side SU with Norhtfield/Williamstown which are both prek-12. After the summer and fall of “rulings and interpretations” I got fed up with finding something new out each month at our board meeting so I requested a meeting with Rebecca in her office with our superintendent. Two other from AOE were there as well. We brought all our questions so we could get official rulings and answers so we could stop wasting our time having to pivot every time we got an interpretation of the Act back. During this meeting I asked several times to make sure there was not a mistake in the answer to our question, "would Roxbury prek-6 be allowed to join in a district with Orange and Washington (prek-8)? The answer was, "absolutely NO", and the explanation was that it was unconstitutional under the Vermont constitution because it would be creating unequal situations for the 7th and 8th graders in a single district. We also gained clarification that we were not allowed to be in a 706 study with them anyway because we do not share the same structure - the only allowable scenario in 706 studies. Which left Roxbury blowing in the breeze with literally no district remotely close to us that has a similar structure. i.e. we can not enter a 706 study because we have no possible partners. Not to mention we found this out in late December after many districts and already charted their course.
Thus we have had to reach out to surrounding districts to see if they are interested in making us advisable in hopes that someone will absorb us. We will then have to be part of their structure and thus in an indirect manner, eliminate the option to tuition our 7-12 graders at a school of the parents' choice. I can’t say I am a huge proponent of the concept of choice, but it is what it is and many of our parents are furious with the loss of this. I will say I am a strong opponent to Act 46 and spoke out very strongly at its last public hearing before it passed in 2015. I also don't think for a second that many of the “unintended” consequences were anything of the sort. Roxbury is a perfect example of removing this choice option without stating they had a goal of doing so. It even allows them to say “there is nothing that states we are removing choice” but then letting the language and logistics of Act 46 and 706 studies create the defacto situation where it is.
I am angered, disappointed, and frustrated with the lack of leadership Rebecca Holcombe. and the AOE provided throughout this process, at the incompetent and clearly 'out of their depth' legislature and House and Senate Ed committees, and the total uselessness of Shumlin throughout. They all stumbled around for 4 years trying to get something done and they finally figured out how to get something passed - something that will do very little if anything to substantively change our stumbling education system for the better. For what?
so take aways,
706 only with exact same district structures
no merging unless similar structure
also as of note, roxbury can’t feasibly add 7&8 to match orange and washington and they aren’t willing to remove theres for several practical reasons thus in the eyes of the state we are not able to join together.
roxbury and wssu board chair
The Peacham Process - an update
From Margaret MacLean
At the March School Board Meeting the Peacham School Board voted to establish a local study committee to explore the options available to Peacham related to Act 46 the school governance law. As a result of the last mail chimp message, a small group formed to establish a local Act 46 study committee.
The school board and committee are exploring a variety of options for the future of education in Peacham.
Create one PK - 8 district with 4 towns Waterford, Barnet, Walden and Peacham.
This will result in a change in the current operating structure of Peacham School from K-6 to K-8. The town would voluntarily relinquish school choice in grades 7/8. Peacham has historically offered choice in grades 7/8 and this choice is protected in section 4 of the law. Peacham is allowed to voluntarily relinquish school choice but the Law protects Peacham’s right to retain choice. A K-8 district will result in the dissolution of the Peacham School district. One board would be created for all 4 towns. Peacham would have a minority voice due to proportional representation. Town meeting, as we know it, would cease to exist. A district wide budget would be created and voted on by Australian ballot.
Currently the school board is exploring this option with Barnet Waterford and Walden. The board will need to vote to decide if this is the only option Peacham wishes to pursue at the end of this process. This vote will take place in early July. An affirmative vote will close off additional options for Peacham and result in the formation of a 706b committee to move the formation of a K-8 district to a town vote in March 2017.
Should a 706b study committee be formed representation on the committee would be proportional. The Agency of Education has ruled that in forming a 706b committee statutory authority is ceded by the board to the committee. The committee would develop articles of agreement which would be the terms of formation for the new district and which would articulate the vision for the new district. In this scenario Peacham would retain it’s small schools grant as a merger support grant and benefit from temporary tax incentives for merger.
Alternative Structure A
An Alternative Structure is described in section 5 of Act 46 and is being pursued by a number of districts statewide. An alternative structure would create the following new merged Supervisory Union. Within the new SU contractual arrangements could be made which would enhance collaboration to meet the goals of the law between the schools that are SU members.
K-8 Walden, Barnet and Waterford - 1 school board
K-6 Peacham merged with Greensboro/Stannard [Lakeview school]
K-12 Danville as a standalone district or merged with Cabot
The alternative structure would meet the numbers guidelines outlined in Act 46 creating a larger district. It would be comprised of schools from 4 different existing supervisory unions but reduce governance from potentially 7 school boards to 3 school boards. It would not require Peacham to change its operating structure.
Contact has been made with the Greensboro/Stannard boards that operate the Lakeview School in Greensboro to see if they would like to explore this merger possibility. This merger would allow Peacham to retain its operating structure and retain school choice in grades 7/8. This merger would be of like size schools and communities and Peacham would be able to retain an equal measure of representation and voice. This merger would allow Peacham to retain its small schools grant as a merger support grant and benefit from temporary tax incentives. As with the option above after exploring this merger possibility with the Greensboro and Stannard boards Peacham could vote to form a 706b committee to craft articles for agreement and a vision for how the schools would work together and move this merger to a town vote by the end of the 2016/17 school year.
Alternative Structure B
Should an exploration of both options above not prove the best way for Peacham to meet the goals of Act 46 and should the school board decide not to form a 706b committee for either scenario an alternative structure comprised of a new SU could be created. Within the new SU contractual arrangements could be made which would enhance collaboration to meet the goals of the law between the schools that are SU members.
The new Supervisory Union would be comprised of:
K-8 Walden, Barnet and Waterford
K-6 Peacham as a standalone district
K-12 Danville as a standalone district or merged with Cabot
This alternative structure would nearly meet the numbers guidelines without Cabot and meet them with Cabot. It would not require Peacham to change its operating structure. Peacham would lose the small schools grant funds in 2018 under this scenario and not be eligible for temporary tax incentives. To pursue this option Peacham would not form a 706b committee instead they would make a case directly to the state board for approval to remain a standalone district.
Closing Peacham School and tuitioning students K-12
The board and committee are not actively exploring this option at this time.
Below are the notes from the 1st 2 meetings of the Peacham Act 46 Local Study Committee.
Self Study Process Peacham School
4/27/2016 Initial Meeting / Meeting Notes
Volunteers for the local Peacham Study Committee held an organizational meeting. The following attended: Anna Rubin, Sean Markey, Cathy Brown, Molly Willard, Cornelia Hasenfuss, Jessica Roy, Mike Heath and Margaret Maclean.
This group is acting as a committee of the board and will report to the school board. Mike and Cornelia represented the board at the meeting.
The group discussed the flowing topics.
Why a local study committee?
What is the current state of Act 46 activity in the district?
What is the task of this working group?
It was agreed the working group would:
Consider all viable options available for Peacham School
Gather evidence as to how each option meets the goals of the law
Research the possibilities
Make recommendations to the board
5/5/2016 Second Meeting / Meeting Notes
Attendees: Anna Rubin, Molly Willard, Cornelia Hasenfuss, and Jessica
Roy, Mike Heath and Margaret Maclean.
The group decided to begin work in 2 areas.
Send mail chimp via Mark to inform everyone regarding the work of the group
Develop a community survey for distribution electronically via mail chimp, FPF and the Love of Peacham FB page along with additional paper copies.
Target distribution the last week of May.
**********COMMUNITY MEMBERS PLEASE BE ON THE LOOK OUT FOR THE SURVEY AT THE END OF MAY.
Evidence Gathering related to how Peacham meets Act 46 goals.
Gather census data re grade level cohort groups 0 -18 years.
Gather data re school choice in grades 7-12
Gather student performance data K -6
Gather public performance data 7-12 [Honor roll, awards recognitions etc for Peacham students]
Gather post-secondary data for 18-20 year olds if possible.
The group will use the next 2 weeks to work on these tasks and report back at our next meeting, which will be THURSDAY MAY 19TH AT 6:30 at school. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO JOIN THIS COMMITTEE PLEASE ATTEND THIS MEETING.
by Jennifer Marckres, Craftsbury School Board Member, (printed in the Montpelier Bridge)
Craftsbury Schools is a PK-12 system serving the town of Craftsbury and tuition students from several neighboring communities. We are very proud that our Academy is the oldest and smallest high school in the state of Vermont, but that moniker does not keep us from looking forward. Over the last five years we have enjoyed increasing enrollment, stable budgets and an expanded curriculum. Of our 79 high school students we have 30-35 students taking advanced placement classes, many students in more than one class, for a total of 63 enrollments in nine subject areas. Yet even those numbers don’t tell the whole story. We successfully serve a very diverse student population, coming from very different backgrounds choosing to go in many different directions after our job at the academy is finished.
Our school’s greatest pride is our dedication to not just the kind of student we are encouraging in the classroom, but more importantly, the kind of person we are encouraging period. I would invite everyone to visit our website and look at what the portrait of a Craftsbury graduate looks like. You will see that our small schools, and one could argue many other small schools around the state with close ties to the greater community, offer more than just a curriculum and that is the essential component that Act 46 is carelessly discarding.
Under Act 46 we are being asked to voluntarily give up control over the quality product we have built for over 150 years, for a model which may or not save money, may or may not expand educational opportunities, may or may not keep our schools open and which may or may not deliver greater equality throughout the state, five to 10 years down the line. A “one size fits all” set of measures does not fit Craftsbury in any way.
Craftsbury is not afraid of change. Even though Craftsbury Academy is the oldest and smallest high school in the state, I could write a whole dissertation outlining all of the many instances in the last 150 years our community has come together to explore creative, forward thinking initiatives that will ensure the delivery of a quality education while keeping a realistic and watchful eye on the financial implications of that very education. The latest was a three-year commitment to voluntarily explore merger options under Act 153 and 156. Due to the unique makeup of our supervisory union, the merger options were deemed impracticable.
The legislature is now asking us to turn away from what we have been building, successfully I might add, and change course to fix something that isn’t broken. We at Craftsbury feel we have so much to lose and nothing concrete to gain. Craftsbury would be moving from voting on a 3.5 million dollar budget to a 25.5 million dollar district budget. Can anyone really say that taxpayers will not feel less of a personal connection, less of an investment? We will be giving our buildings, buildings with 187 years of history to a district that will manage them along with all of the other school buildings across six towns. What was once center to our towns becomes satellite to our district all in the name “of expanding educational opportunities” and possible cost containment.
The loss of local control is frequently cited as a reason for pushing back at district mergers. That is too simple and doesn’t even begin to capture the travesty that Act 46 represents. What people are lamenting is not the loss of local control but the loss of community investment in the school for nothing quantifiable or guaranteed in return. We don’t argue with the Board of Education that a district board will act in the best interest of the student. We all, whether it is state, district or local, try to act in the best interest of the student. What we are trying to get the Board of Education and the legislators to understand is that by removing our current governance structure, you are alienating the very people that make our education system in Vermont one of the best in the country. The students, parents, staff, board members and administrators of Craftsbury schools are motivated to work harder because of the energy generated by the community. The community is investing in them monetarily AND emotionally and students are accountable to that investment. Craftsbury will not readily abandon that relationship.
We can cite so many examples of community involvement, energy and dedication to our school. In the last five years we have built a gym, invested in sustainable energy, boasted the highest NECAP scores in the state, expanded our curriculum and built a local preschool at the insistence of our tax payers. Families are moving into our isolated, rural town to be a part of what we are building. There is so much more at stake than the future of our small schools. We are hoping that the State Board of Education and the legislators in favor of Act 46 will take the potentially crippling ramifications into consideration.
Act 46 Report from Peacham Town Meeting
reported in the Caledonia Record
PEACHAM — Tuesday’s town meeting was the quickest anyone could remember. Decisions were finalized on the school and town’s 28 articles, with way more applause for officials than criticism, before the annual potluck lunch was served at noon.
In a town of fewer than 800 residents, 120 voters added two members to the school board and elected a new selectman. They also debated the merits of Act 46 for its K-6th Grade School, passed a penalty generating school budget of nearly $1.8 million, a level- funded town budget of $762,987, and $32,883 in special appropriations.
During the first and longest part of the meeting, school board Chairman Mark Clough, who summarized Act 46, was re-elected to a three-year term. The board, as it stood before town meeting, included Vice Chairman Mike Heath, and Adam Kane, who were each elected to 3-year terms.
"We want to add more members to the school board, so there will be more voices from the community as we make decisions,” Clough said, explaining board members recognized that there was more work than a 3-member board could comfortably do. “Our goal is to try to hold onto the school,” he concluded. While there were many questions that seemed to be erupting from the audience, Clough assured voters they would have many opportunities to vote on options that have emerged from initial Act 46 options. Options such as running an independent or private school in Peacham queried by Barry Lawson had not been explored yet, Clough said.
Right now, Peacham, a K-6 school, has joined with Barnet, Walden, Waterford and Concord to explore K-8 options compared to conversations with Danville, Cabot, and Twinfield that would eliminate school choice for K-12, except through public schools.
Added to the Peacham School board of directors through another two articles were Cornelia Hasenfuss for a 2-year term and Jessica Philippe for a 1-year term, although the previous motion to add two members to the 3-member board was for 2-year terms. Moderator Tim McKay explained that while the two board members added two-year terms were in accordance with state statute, the town was allowed to stagger the terms to one and two-year terms.
The $1,795,041 school district budget results in education spending of $18,110 per equalized pupil, putting Peacham in the state penalty box with an 11.4 percent increase. But, Clough said the community had been hit by a very large unexpected $40,000 special education bill.
“Year by year it’s been creeping up, but we didn’t expect this,” he said, noting that the recent special education bill drove the total to $94,000. Tuition costs for grades 7-12 added another $140,000, he said, noting that it would always be an unknown about who would be moving into the town.
A voter asked if it would be better if the state should be including major special education costs into health care costs rather than including it in education. No one had an answer for that, although it has been proposed before.
Reflections on Rutland South Merger
Grant Reynolds, Tinmouth School Board
Well, we did it. 84% of a very large turnout voted for merging (234-28) in Tinmouth. Similar majorities in the other towns (Rutland South - Clarendon, Shrewsbury, and Wallingford).
In Tinmouth and Shrewsbury, Article 4 of our Articles of Agreement was very potent:
No school can be closed without a unanimous vote of the Union Board and a vote of the town in which the school is located
Lower taxes also helped -- 20 cents less for the merged district. It was the usual micro-town story: our district tax rate was up significantly because we lost two tuition-in students, replaced personnel with higher priced ones, special ed grant down, etc., and lost 3 students. Our cap tax was 5.6 cents. The merged district had no cap, spread costs over a broader base, and had the 8 cent bonus.
I would like to get Article 4, second paragraph, out to every small town that is dealing with a merger—the one that says, "No school can be closed without a unanimous vote of the Union Board and a vote of the town in which the school is located." The Agency of Education and State Board of Education have already approved it. In fact, they put it on their website among the "Articles already approved." I have heard that Fair Haven (Addison Rutland) changed their Articles at the last minute to require a unanimous vote of the Union Board to close a school.
And I'm proud of it. Small schools are the heart of small towns.
So I think any town is welcome to try to convince its partners to include it in their Articles. If they don’t get it now, they will NEVER get it again! No school can be closed without a unanimous vote of the Union Board and a vote of the town in which the school is located.
So we chose to fight Act 46 by joining it -- actually, we had to use Act 153 because we didn't have the magic 900 students. We had to give up private school choice, and 7th and 8th grades.
Our supervisory union was actively opposed to the legislation that ended up being Act 46 from its inception. Therefore, there is not surprise that we have not pursued centralization at this time. Based on multiple conversations at the both the SU and local level, there remains a strong belief in maintaining local boards.
We will implement a centralized approach to special education come July 1 after several years of having a waiver from the AOE. Whereas there is some promise that we will provide a more equitable approach to services and distribute costs in an equitable manner through assessments based on equalized pupils, we do not anticipate any cost savings through an economy of scale. We actually anticipate we will likely see an increase in costs due to the deployment of resources to meet identified needs that were not addressed previously.
We spent this past fall looking at our support staff terms and conditions policies (8) along with our three separate collective bargaining agreements to consider consistency and equity. We have addressed some equity through the negotiations process and are now asking boards to look at a model policy in the hopes of more alignment. We recognize it will take several years to find more consistency and equity.
Likewise, we are now beginning the process of looking at how we are meeting or not meeting Vermont Educational Quality Standards across the SU. We will also look at variations in programs and services.
We have a few communities looking at governance considerations. Newport Town currently does not belong to the NCUJHS District and has looked at what it might mean to become a member. In addition, Westfield is also considering joining the Jr. High School District. Westfield and Jay operate a school through a joint contract and have begun to look at becoming a union district. In the future Derby may look at the same with Morgan, as Morgan is a non-operating district and sends all their students to Derby.
The tax incentives have not proven to be a strong inducement for board members or community members. In four different community forums, people did not express a strong interest in centralization regardless of temporary tax benefits. In general, folks have been quick to dismiss the merger incentives as only a temporary relief while giving up a sense of local control forever..
Peacham Elementary School
Peacham operates an elementary school followed by the opportunity for families to choose the best education option for their child in grades 7-12.
Act 46 puts Peacham in a difficult position. On its own it is able to meet all the goals of Act 46 except for the issue of the census problem. If we had 60 students our costs would be average but with the current enrollment of 50 students our costs are above average.
No other area school operates K -6 they all operate K-8 or K-12 consequently Peacham has no partners without changing how it currently operates.
Peacham has chosen to join a study committee with our neighbors but any solution proposed by the committee will result in Peacham forfeiting choice for grades 7and 8 and thus reducing opportunities for students, a primary goal of the law.
Staying independent is challenging at our current size due to above average spending yet the merger options allowed by the law will result in reduced student opportunity. With either choice we cannot comply with all the goals of the law. This is an example of the goals of the law and the mechanisms of the law not being aligned.
The Peacham school board is currently considering the following options.
Joining a K-8 merger and relinquishing choice in grades 7/8
Closing our school and becoming a choice town K-12 with a district of choice towns forming to our north.
We are aware that historical choice is protected in Sect 4 of Act 46. Should we wait until 2018 and the state chooses at that time to force merge Peacham we can only be merged K-6 and would retain choice at grades 7 and 8.
Tinmouth is a small PreK-6 school; 49 children. Going up by several each of the next few years, but probably won't meet 60. We are part of the Study Committee for merging the Rutland South districts (Tinmouth(pop 613), Shrewsbury(1100), Wallingford (2000) and Clarendon (2500), plus Mill River Union #40). The was merger approved by SBOE December 15. We have secondary school choice and are giving it up. Now 3 in private school (Long Trail), 3 public school other than Mill River, 27 Mill River. Since 1975 at least 80%, usually 90% have attended Mill River by choice. We willingly participated in this merger because we could write the Articles. Article 4, Second paragraph: No school may be closed without a unanimous vote of the Union Board and a vote of the town in which it is located. Essentially we traded choice for a few for keeping our school for the whole town.
Mt Holly (900 registered voters) and Mt Holly Elementary Schoo have a unique bond that through a dedicated staff and numerous town volunteers have catapulted the school into state prominence as a high performer. Act 46 threatens to destroy the very democratic fiber that allows the school to perform at its high level. Losing our local school board will destroy the unique connection between the town and the school. Act 46 is smoke and mirrors which has the not-so-hidden agenda of closing down small,schools regardless of performance. One size doesn't fit all.
Stories: Navigating Act 46
The following stories reflect the perspectives of the individuals who submitted them.