Date set for vote on governance of Bristol-area schools

BRISTOL — Residents in the Bristol-area towns in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union will vote on whether to institute a unified union governance structure that would put all schools in the district under one school board and one budget.
The ANeSU Act 46 committee announced last Friday that it will hold a vote on a unified union school governance structure for the five-town area.
“One of the biggest benefits with the unified union is that it provides the greatest simplification of the governance, which really is part of the main focus of Act 46,” said committee chair Jennifer Stanley of Monkton. “It’s simplifying how we’re governing our schools so that our school administrators have more time and our teachers and everyone has more time to focus on what our kids need.
“I think that that was a big driving force, that some of the other structures we looked at just didn’t provide as much simplification in the governance,” she added.
The committee on May 4 voted to take this path with a 9-3 tally, which was more than the two-thirds majority that the committee had set as its rule for passing all votes on all issues. Voting for the unified union were committee members Michaela Wisell, Steve Pilcher, Dawn Griswold, Elin Melchior, Kate Heath, Sarah LaPerle, Caleb Elder, Allison Sturtevant and Ed McGuire. Voting against were Herb Olson, Nancy Cornell and Mike Fisher. Stanley, as chair, did not vote.
According to Stanley, the committee evaluated all standard merger options and had also looked at an alternative structure proposed by Cornell and Olson of Starksboro and Fisher of Lincoln. The committee ruled out as not applicable to ANeSU’s current structure what are called the side-by-side, regional education district, and layered options. In addition, the modified union — which allows some member schools to merge into a district and others to opt out, while keeping the supervisory union — was rejected as offering complication without substantial benefit.
Stanley explained that the committee had received feedback from Donna Russo-Savage, the Secretary of Education’s chief legal spokesperson on school governance, that the alternative structure proposed by Cornell, Fisher and Olson would likely face legal challenges at the state level. So the committee’s Act 46 consultant, Andrew Pond, advised it to instead pursue “known structures.”
“I think that Herb and the folks that he worked with did a really great job thinking creatively about what are some ways we could try to realign the governance without losing some of the things that they felt were really valued in the local schools,” said Stanley. “And the committee did have some pretty significant discussions about that proposal.”
Prior to its May 4 meeting, the committee had also conducted a community survey on issues relating to Act 46, which revealed that while 71 percent of survey participants were somewhat to very likely to support a unified union, a substantial number were concerned about losing local control.
With the date set for a vote, ANeSU residents came together on Monday for a forum on school governance unification, and clearly many still have questions (see story, here).
Looking ahead, several committee members said that having chosen a governance structure, the committee would be able to use the articles of agreement as a place to fine-tune ANeSU’s approach to unification and to address constituents’ concerns.
“I really think our best mechanism for moving forward with a lot of the goals we’ve heard is in the articles of agreement,” said committee member Caleb Elder. “And we can’t work on the articles of agreement until we’ve picked a structure.”
The ANeSU Act 46 committee plans to have the unified union proposal on the November ballot to take advantage of the greater turnout that comes with a presidential election. That means, roughly, that it wants to have the articles drafted and do a legal review by the end of June, get feedback from the Agency of Education in July and August, and then submit to the Board of Education sometime in September.
Stanley noted that for the rest of May and June the committee will be meeting weekly and that meetings rotate through all ANeSU towns to make it easier for community members to attend. She also encouraged community members to contact their representatives on the Act 46 committee to voice their ideas or concerns. The Act 46 committee tentatively plans to hold its next community forum as part of the Wednesday, June 8, all-boards meeting.
Upcoming meetings will be held:
•  Thursday, May 19, at Robinson Elementary in Starksboro.
•  Wednesday, May 25, at Beeman Elementary in New Haven.
•  Wednesday, June 1, at Bristol Elementary School.
•  Wednesday, June 8, at Mount Abe.
•  Tuesday, June 14, at Lincoln Community School.
•  Wednesday, June 22, at Monkton Central School.
• Late June/early July, date to be confirmed, Robinson Elementary School.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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