Cornwall salutes Cindy Peet for 45-year run on Bingham Memorial School Board

MIDDLEBURY — Service on the Cornwall School Board seemed scripted for Cindy Peet.
Her husband Ed’s grandfather, Edward H. Peet, donated the 5-acre parcel on which the Bingham Memorial School now sits. It was carved from the 7th-generation Peet Farm where Cindy and Ed Peet reside. They can see the schoolhouse from their home.
But when Cindy Peet was first elected to the Cornwall School Board back in 1972, she never imagined her tenure would outlive the panel itself. Peet and her colleagues last week attended their final gathering of the local board, which has been supplanted by the unified Addison Central School District (ACSD) board.
“I felt I brought some history to the school,” Peet said during an interview on Monday.
A lot of history.
The Peets were among the early settlers of Cornwall and were a major contributor to the agricultural economy of the community. Ed Peet recently retired from farming, though Mike Pyle continues to run it as a dairy enterprise.
Cindy and Ed met at the University of Vermont. Cindy was majoring in math and minoring in economics. They would marry soon after graduating in 1966, ultimately making their way back to the Peet Farm. There, they would raise four children: January, Fred, Andrew and April.
All four attended the Bingham Memorial School.
Life for the Peets in those early days could have been captured in a Norman Rockwell tableau.
There were farm chores, multiple place settings at the family dinner table and a short walk to school along the backdrop of verdant pastures, statuesque corn stalks, mountain views and blissful bovines.
Not that the children always enjoyed that trek to the classroom.
“They didn’t like going through the cornfields or the pasture,” Cindy Peet chuckled. “They preferred to be ‘delivered.’”
Cindy Peet wanted to become involved at the school at which her children were being educated. She had — and still has — a knack for numbers, and thought those skills could benefit Bingham Memorial.
“I’m fiscally conservative,” Peet said.
She began what would be a long run as the board’s clerk, making sure all the budget figures added up.
“I reviewed the bills, and had a good handle on what (funds) were coming in and going out,” Peet said.
Back in those days, board members had more responsibilities in day-to-day school operations. For example, Peet was in charge of payroll for her first five years on the panel.
It should also be noted that there was no teachers’ contract in Cornwall during most of the 1970s. The school board would unilaterally set educators’ salaries.
“I was on (Cornwall’s) first bargaining team,” Peet recalled of the eventual unionizing of Cornwall teachers. The teachers soon began negotiating as a unit with their colleagues in the five other rural ACSD-member towns of Bridport, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge. They would eventually become part of a unified contract process involving all ACSD educators.
Cornwall’s school joined the computer age during the 1980s, eventually going online in 1995, according to Peet.
She’s been proud of the quality education the small school has been able to offer local children through the years.
A generous bequest resulted in creation of the “Gilligan Fund,” which produces annual investment dividends of between $15,000 and $18,000 that pay for educational field trips and recreational activities. Past classes have visited Washington, D.C., Peet noted.
A long and close relationship with Middlebury College has yielded many perks for Bingham Memorial. Many college professors reside in Cornwall and periodically visit classrooms to share their special knowledge of history, geography, science and other disciplines. College students have on occasion helped the school with foreign language instruction, Peet recalled.
She’s seen a lot of changes at Bingham Memorial during the past 45 years.
Along with better technology and growing state and federal mandates, Peet has seen enrollment shrink — a common trend throughout most of the state during the past few decades.
Cornwall’s school was serving around 140 students when the Peets’ children were attending around 30-plus years ago. Bingham Memorial has a current enrollment of 81, a figure that has dipped as low as 77. Peet hopes enrollment doesn’t get so low that ACSD voters decide someday to close the school and send Cornwall kids to be educated in a neighboring community.
“The next few years will be interesting to watch,” she said of enrollment trends.
Veteran Vermont school officials like Peet have seen a lot of changes in education finance and governance during the past two decades.
Peet was on the board in 1997 during the transition to Act 60, a state education finance law that equalized the amount of money Vermont communities could raise on their property tax rates for public education. Peet said Act 60 was complicated and put a lot of stress on school officials, in terms of predicting impact on local tax rates and trying to convey the nuances of the law to local residents.
“You were trying to explain (Act 60) when you didn’t understand it yourself, at times,” Peet said. “It was tough.”
Bingham Memorial’s budget has grown steadily through the years, Peet noted. The school had an annual spending plan of around $220,000 during the early 1980s, she recalled. Cornwall’s school budget for fiscal year 2017 was $1,479,162.
Two years ago, the ACSD consolidated its school governance under Vermont’s Act 46. Suddenly, the ACSD’s separate elementary, high school and supervisory union boards were consolidated into a single panel presiding over a global education budget. The change is expected to produce more efficiencies within the ACSD, though it ended the district’s long tradition of community school boards.
Peet has no interest in running for the ACSD board.
“It’s like a full-time job,” she said of the greater responsibilities of the larger board.
So she’s happy to end her historic run on the Cornwall School Board, though she will remain busy. Peet is in her 38th year as a senior programmer/analyst at Middlebury College.
“I’ve gone from the punch cards to the cloud,” she smiled in recalling the accounting changes she’s seen with the institution.
She’ll also remain active with the Whiting Community Church, where she serves as a trustee.
Peet will miss her time on the board — particularly her interactions with fellow members, whom she said have always put the needs of the students first.
“I love the town,” she said.
Fellow Cornwall School Board member Maureen Deppman praised Peet for her many years of service.
“Cindy’s sound judgment, attention to fiscal responsibilities and collaborative spirit made her a valuable member of our board,” Deppman said. “We all appreciated her knowledge and historical perspective. She dedicated 45 years to Cornwall School and welcomed many teachers, principals and board members to our school community. As we reminisced at our last meeting, it was apparent how many people touched Cindy’s life during her tenure on the board. Her sincere loyalty to her board position ensured that the students of Cornwall School received the best education possible.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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