New Addison Central school board picks Conlon as chair

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central School District (ACSD) board on Tuesday, Aug. 2, picked Peter Conlon of Cornwall to serve as its chairman and got a preview of how the intricate, governance unification process for Middlebury-area schools will likely unfold during the next 15 months.
It was this past Town Meeting Day that Addison Central Supervisory Union voters overwhelmingly endorsed a proposal to form a unified, 13-member ACSD board that will govern all public schools in the seven towns and place all of them under a single education budget.
Voters in the affected towns of Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge also elected the 13-member ACSD board that will officially assume full oversight of the district on July 1, 2017. The existing nine school boards within Addison Central will continue to function, while ceding various responsibilities to the ACSD board during the transition to unified governance.
The new board, in its first substantial business meeting since the merger vote, spoke about the transition to come, and organized itself for the considerable work that lays ahead. Those tasks will include negotiating a master contract for ACSD teachers; crafting the first-ever global spending plan for the district to cover the 2017-2018 academic year; and determining appropriate staffing levels for what is to be a more streamlined operation.
“It’s going to be an interesting challenge,” said board member Perry Hanson of Ripton.
The new board’s first weighty vote on Tuesday was conducted by secret ballot, and it related to a contested race for chairperson. Conlon, the current UD-3 board chairman, and ID-4 Chairman Ruth Hardy confirmed they were both interested in the job.
Conlon, who is also running unopposed for a seat in the Vermont House representing the Addison-2 district, said he wanted to help the district put into motion the governance unification plan, which generated diverse expectations among local voters. He added he believed his experience leading the UD-3 board — a large panel made up of representatives from all seven ACSU towns in charge of overseeing operations at Middlebury Union Middle and High Schools — had prepared him to take the reins of a similarly configured ACSD board.
“I fall in line with what the Vermont School Boards Association recommends for a chair — somebody whose job it is to really forge and maintain a strong working relationship between the board, the superintendent and the central office, as well as to keep the board working and trying to guide it to consensus on the issues that face the board as they come along,” Conlon said. “The board chairman has no more authority or power than anyone else on the board, and as we go about our business, it’s the board’s job to pass things to the superintendent, and to do so with the consensus of the board.”
Conlon acknowledged his likely election to the House and said he did not expect service in the Legislature to affect his ability to chair the ACSD board.
Hardy said she has always been interested in the subject of education governance, through school and into her professional life. She called herself “fierce” and a “workhorse,” committed to tying up loose ands and putting in the time to get the job done.
Hardy also co-chaired (with fellow ACSD board member Suzanne Buck of Bridport) the Addison Central Supervisory Union Charter Committee, a panel that laid the groundwork for last March’s vote on unification.
“I value public conversations about tough issues,’ she said.
“One of my strengths is communication,” she added.
Conlon called Tuesday’ race a strictly “friendly competition” between he and Hardy for the chairmanship, which he won 8-4.
The panel held a second secret ballot vote — for vice chairperson. Longtime Middlebury school representative Lorraine Morse won that contest over Buck, 9-3.
The board then unanimously elected Buck, by voice vote, to serve as clerk.
Its leadership settled, the panel then turned its attention to the considerable work that it and ACSU administrators will need to accomplish through 2017 to make the ACSD fully functional and streamlined. Superintendent Peter Burrows led the board through a discussion of the tasks and some proposed dates by which to accomplish them. They included:
• Develop a single budget draft for all ACSD schools by this November. It’s a discussion during which district officials will also consider potential personnel savings as a result of the unified governance structure.
• Establish a single capital improvements plan for all school buildings in the district by this November. The district will also pursue shared purchasing opportunities to get better deals on supplies and services.
• Review and revise the district’s transportation contract by October of 2017.
• Revise the special education budgeting process within the unified budget by this November.
• Determine a “unified purchasing procedure” for new technology and create a committee to create an ACSD technology plan by May of 2017.
• Decide upon any school choice parameters — students from one ACSD town looking to attend a school in another ACSD town — by next March.
As if their marching orders weren’t expansive enough already, district officials will also spend the coming months determining whether the district should adopt the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.
Supporters see the IB program as a way of placing students more in charge of their own learning and to make them better prepared for success in an increasingly global community. The program is offered in more than 4,000 schools worldwide. The ACSU held a series of meetings throughout the district this past spring to explain, and accept feedback on, a proposal to adopt the IB in the district. Addison Central officials are now assessing the citizen feedback and looking at the logistics of transitioning to an IB curriculum.
“The work groups are almost finished,” Burrows told the ACSD board. “They are going to get back together in September. In the meantime, they are working on a feasibility study… which is going to basically compile all the information we learned over the past year from the work groups, community and staff to figure out if IB is a fit. We are looking at this district-wide right now. The next two months there is going to be intensive work in finishing that feasibility study and doing outreach in September and being prepared in October to make a decision.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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