Mount Abe still seeking schoolboard members

BRISTOL — When members of the Mount Abraham Union High School board gathered on Aug. 22 with the intent to vote on a proposed $35 million bond to renovate the school, the meeting had to be cancelled. The board lacked a quorum.
One week later the board met, with nine members present, and the proposal passed. But the delay put an exclamation point on a community concern: getting residents to serve on what is a lame-duck school board.
Designed as a 13-member board, with five representatives from Bristol and two each from the other four Addison Northeast Supervisory Union towns, the board has been short-handed since March 2017 elections. A quorum for the MAUHS board, explained board chair Dawn Griswold, is half of current membership plus one.
“There’s still work to do,” said Griswold. From now through July 1, 2018, when the separate districts of ANESU officially become the Mount Abraham Unified School District, local school boards still have duties to fulfill.
“The boards are still doing work and part of that work is being a voice for the community. People who are on the board obviously have some connection with people, but they don’t represent all the viewpoints necessarily. And so when you have more people you get more viewpoints and hear from other voices who might not be at the table right now,” Griswold said.
Going into the March 2017 Town Meeting, no candidates were listed on the ballot for Bristol, with two seats vacant, or for single seats open in New Haven and Starksboro. Those four vacancies remain unfilled. For the next two months, the board met with reduced numbers: five at one meeting, six at another, never higher than eight because of absences.
On May 10, Starksboro’s Steve Rooney attended his first Mount Abe board meeting, bringing the ranks to 10 members. On June 12, Tom Darling began as a Bristol school director.
At present, the Mount Abe board has 11 of its designated 13 members. Two seats remain empty: one Bristol and one New Haven.
“It can be tough to fill these spots, as ever, especially when the board in question is slated to go defunct,” said Robinson Elementary School Board Chair Louis Dupont. The RES board appointed Rooney at its May 23 meeting. (Local school boards appoint members to their own and to the high school board when members resign or when vacancies aren’t filled by elections.)
Dupont continued: “There are and will be plenty of opportunities for interested volunteers to contribute.”
Bristol Elementary chair Elin Melchior noted that as the changeover progresses, her board is meeting less frequently than in previous years. Development of the 2018-2019 school year budget is in the hands of the MAUSD board, which began its work last February. She also observed that responsibilities for the current Bristol Elementary board won’t conclude until the final audit on this year’s school budget — which could take place in late 2018 or early 2019.
Along with overseeing the bond vote, Griswold said the Mount Abe board would continue to pay the school’s bills and work on policy and governance issues. And, like the elementary school boards throughout the supervisory union, the board will be working on the handoff to MAUSD.
“It’s kind of like closing up shop. We’re going to hand over responsibilities to the district board. So we’re going to be defining what we pass on,” Griswold said.
Until that transition, Griswold reiterated the importance of the Mount Abe board.
“The board continues to have an important job of being in touch with the community, knowing what the community wants, and still overseeing that that’s happening. That’s really important,” she said.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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