Otter Valley’s unified district earns state approval

BRANDON — The proposed Otter Valley Unified Union School District won approval from the Vermont State Board of Education last week and the stage is set for the Jan. 19 multi-town vote.
The Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union took its side-by-side school consolidation proposal to the state board for approval at a Dec. 15 meeting at Mill River Union High School.
RNeSU has been working on the plan under the new Act 46 school consolidation legislation passed last spring, which requires school districts to study and implement governance merger plans by 2020. The goal is to pool resources, management and staffing, and consolidate budgets while spreading the pupil population by continuing school choice and maintaining small schools.
The OVUU was one of three proposed districts up for approval by the state board. The Rutland South and Addison Central unified districts also were approved.
The state board approved the OVUU district unanimously, RNeSU Superintendent Jeanne Collins said, save for board member Bill Mathis of Goshen, who recused himself from the vote.
The approved OVUU school district is comprised of the existing six RNeSU towns of Brandon, Pittsford, Goshen, Leicester, Whiting and Sudbury in a pre-k through 12th grade district with Otter Valley Union High School and continued operation of four elementary schools.
The OVUU district also includes the towns of Mendon and Chittenden, which will operate the pre-k through 6th grade Barstow Unified Union School District with high school choice.
A single, 13-member board will be elected on Jan. 19 to oversee the new district, a change from the current model where each school has its own board, RNeSU has a board as well. While the number of board representatives a town receives is based on population, there are also four “at-large” board seats weighted equally to the town seats.
Each of the board seats will be voted on by every town.
All eight towns must vote to approve the new district. While the vote is set for Jan. 19, residents can go to their town clerks any time between now and then and vote on the issue and the board members by absentee ballot.
Superintendent Collins said she had been fairly confident that the state board would approve the OVUU proposal.
“We had a thorough vetting with the Agency of Education prior to us going to the board,” she said. “By the time we handed over our final documents, we felt we met everything required by law.”
She said the state board asked questions regarding the reasons for the side-by-side district (Mendon and Chittenden opted to stay with Rutland Northeast and maintain high school choice), and how the OVUU board representation was decided.
Collins said the OVUU is not going to be all that different from the current Otter Valley Union High School Board, where there are representatives from each town served by the school, and the larger towns have two seats.
“The end product is going to be a unified school district where we’re all taking care of each other, the same way the Otter Valley board is now,” she said.

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