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State board receives school unification plan from ANeSU

BRISTOL — The finalized plan for unifying governance and budgeting among all six schools in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union is now before the Vermont State Board of Education, which is expected to review the plan at its Sept. 20 meeting in St. Johnsbury.
If approved by the state board, the plan will come before the voters of Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro on Nov. 8 for their decision.
Residents of those towns will also be asked to elect a new 13-member Addison Northeast School District (ANESD) board that will take charge if the unification plan passes (click here to see related story).
Voters in the Rutland Northeast, Addison Northwest and Addison Central supervisory unions this year OK’d unification plans that were developed under the auspice of Act 46. Orwell rejected an Act 46 unification plan.
At its Aug. 29 meeting, the ANeSU Act 46 Study Committee reviewed feedback from the Agency of Education and approved changes. The committee also approved a new closing statement to follow the Minority Report, which is also part of the committee’s Final Report and Articles of Agreement.
ANeSU is pursuing what’s called a Regional Education District (RED) merger. Communities that approve a RED by July 1, 2017, and become operational by July 1, 2019, receive four years of tax incentives (starting at 8 cents off the property tax in the first year and decreasing to 6, 4 and 2 cents in succeeding years), a $150,000 transition facilitation grant, and a merger support grant.
The ANeSU merger plan proposes a 13-member governing board, with each of the five towns represented proportionately and voting for its own representatives only. While the new board would likely begin its work in January 2017, the new district would become officially fully operational on July 1, 2018.
According to committee Chair Jennifer Stanley, some key aspects of the proposed articles of agreement include:
•  Restrictive school closing provisions, such that no school could be closed the first four years of the new district’s operation and closing of any school thereafter would require a vote from both the ANESD board and from the voters of that community.
•  The creation of local school councils or school advisory committees to create a clear structure for community input and engagement at the local school level.
•  Continued community and nonprofit access to the buildings.
•  Voting for the unified budget by Australian ballot.
“In the new unified district, we have to all vote the same way,” said Stanley. “We can’t have some towns vote by Australian ballot and some towns vote by town meeting. And so this committee has proposed an Australian ballot vote because right now 70 percent of the population of our communities vote by Australian ballot. And so while it was very difficult to chose, we had to chose one.
“And unfortunately, no matter which way you chose some people will probably not be happy with that. So we tried to go with what the larger percent of our population is already doing.”
While most of the changes approved on Aug. 29 concerned smaller details (such as updating financial and education tax data or clarifying wording), one truly substantial change was the addition of what the committee voted to call “Closing Thoughts.” These “thoughts” had originally been drafted as the official rebuttal to the Minority Report; and the committee had voted at its July 27 meeting to include both the Minority Report and a rebuttal to it in the final document sent to the state board.
Only one other plan submitted to the state board contains a Minority Report, the merger plan for Chittenden East. Yet the tenor of Chittenden East’s rebuttal is far different from the tenor of ANeSU’s “Closing Thoughts.” The Chittenden East rebuttal argues, stridently at times, point by point against its Minority Report, often identifying what it calls misrepresentations, factual errors and untruths. Not so, ANeSU’s “Closing Remarks,” which instead restates the majority’s beliefs and presents the committee’s process as fair, informed, thorough and thoughtful.
Stanley, who had been appointed by the committee to draft the response to the Minority Report, said that she didn’t feel inclined to write the same kind of point-by-point rebuttal as Chittenden East but instead wanted to restate “some of the reasons we believe this is the right way to go.”
Committee member Caleb Elder articulated what many were saying in the discussion: “The committee has rightfully allowed for dissenting opinion to be aired.” Elder then expressed that it was also important to emphasize that there was ultimately one report and one committee.
“It is important to close with something that represents an endorsement of the report that the majority voted for,” Elder said.
NEXT STEPS
The ANeSU Study Committee’s eyes are now turned toward the State Board of Education’s vote later this month and on the work of the newly formed Communications subcommittee, whose work will be to get the word out so that voters can make an informed decision come November. One part of that plan — by state statute and by committee design — will be to hold information sessions in each of the five ANeSU towns.
The committee is also notifying community members that now is the time to run for the proposed ANESD board.
For more information and to read the Act 46 Study Committee Final Report and Articles of Agreement, go to the ANeSU website and click on Act 46 Study Committee Final Report.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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