State OKs ANeSU unification plan
BRISTOL — The Vermont Board of Education on Tuesday approved the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union’s plan to unify governance and budgeting at the Bristol-area schools.
The decision on whether to move forward with that plan is now in the hands of the five-town electorate, which will vote on it Nov. 8.
“I am very pleased with the support the ANeSU Act 46 Study Committee has received from the Agency of Education and the State Board of Education on its proposed plan for unification,” said ANeSU Superintendent Patrick Reen. “The study committee has worked diligently for many months and this approval is a significant step toward realizing their goal of a more efficient, effective, unified school district. The committee can now continue its work of informing community members in each of the five towns about unification.”
Reen and Act 46 Study Committee Chair Jennifer Stanley attended the VBE meeting. Also attending was did Herb Olson, a member of the committee who joined with three others to write a “Minority Report” that advocated a different way for ANeSU schools to meet the requirements of Vermont’s Act 46.
In a statement released late Tuesday night, Stanley described ANeSU’s part in the VBE’s Sept. 20 meeting, held at St. Johnsbury Academy. After formally presenting the ANeSU Act 46 Study Committee Report, Reen and Stanley gave a short presentation highlighting details about ANeSU, the unification plan and how unification supports the district’s current and planned initiatives. They then fielded questions from board members, particularly about the plan’s recommendation for the creation of local advisory councils in each community, something unique to the ANeSU plan.
“The board members commended the Study Committee for the high quality of work in the report and the comprehensive information included,” according to Stanley.
Olson shared comments with the board and handed out a document prepared by the three members of the ANeSU Study Committee who authored the Minority Report: Olson, Nancy Cornell and Mike Fisher. When the 14-member study committeevoted to approve the plan in late July, 8-3-1, Olson, Cornell and Fisher’s were the only three No votes (Stanley, as chair, abstained; two members were absent). Of the 16 unification plans currently before or approved by the State Board of Education only two, ANeSU’s and that of Chittenden East, include minority reports.
The document Olson presented to the VBE echoed themes in the Minority Report itself: that unification is unlikely to have a significant impact on tax reduction or improve educational quality, will weaken school-community relationships, may hinder a school’s ability to make its own choices in teaching staff and make the budgeting process less transparent.
Reached after Tuesday’s vote, Olson told the Independent that he hopes residents in the five town area will listen to all sides before making up their minds.
“In terms of going forward, I think it’s important that the community understands what the advocates of the proposed merger are thinking and why they think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “And I really think it’s important that they also hear the other side of this story because I believe the facts don’t support the promises that were made in Act 46, at least as it applies to our five-town district.”
Reen praised the unification plan as “the best way to govern our schools in Addison Northeast in terms of outcomes for kids.”
He noted the plan’s provisions for strengthened community engagement, its provisions to protect small schools (a school can only be closed if both the new district board and the town in question were to vote for closure), and a provision that protects a local parent teacher organization’s abilities to fundraise for its own local elementary school and protects special grants and funds earmarked for a particular school.
Leading up to the Nov. 8 vote, the ANeSU Act 46 Study Committee will likewise focus on informing the community. The committee plans to attend school events, post information online and through local media and send out a mailing. Stanley urged all “committee and board members to take every opportunity to inform your friends and neighbors about the upcoming vote.”
Stanley concluded her statement by thanking “everyone who helped make this important milestone possible.”
To read the ANeSU’s Act 46 Report and the Minority Report check out this story on addisonindependent.com.
To watch Reen and Stanley’s presentation to the Vermont Board of Education, study the unification plan, and learn more about the ANeSU plan for district unification, go to the ANeSU Act 46 website, www.anesu.org/home/act-46-unification-study.
Minutes of the state board’s Sept. 20 meeting (legally required to be posted by Sept. 27) will be available at http://education.vermont.gov/state-board-councils. Live video coverage is expected to be uploaded by sometime next week (http://www.retn.org/vermont-state-board-education).
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected]