Education News

Dave Sharpe resigns from MAUSD board

DAVE SHARPE

BRISTOL — A Bristol representative to the Mount Abraham Unified School District board, and one of its most outspoken members over the past two years, has resigned.

Dave Sharpe will step down May 1, with 10 months remaining in his three-year term.

“My beliefs and notions about my participation on the MAUSD board seem incompatible with current board function and board leadership,” Sharpe wrote in an undated resignation letter to his fellow board members.

A longtime public servant, Sharpe spent nine years on the Bristol selectboard and 16 years in the Vermont House of Representatives, where he chaired the Education Committee from 2015 to 2018. He was elected to the MAUSD board as a write-in candidate in 2020 — just before the pandemic closed Vermont’s schools.

He had hoped to address budget issues and preserve local elementary schools, he said at the time. He also wanted to find local ways to help fulfill the administrative and financial promises of Act 46, a 2015 law he was instrumental in passing, which spurred school governance consolidation across the state.

Over the past two years he has supported efforts to keep the Lincoln and Starksboro schools open while criticizing the withdrawal movements in those towns, and he has advocated for the creation of a board finance committee that would provide better oversight of the central office.

For the past year he has also served on the committee studying a possible merger of MAUSD with Addison Northwest School District.

“I said often how being on a local school board was the toughest volunteer job even though I had never served on a school board,” Sharpe told the Independent in an email Monday. “I learned firsthand that I underestimated just how difficult it is to serve on a school board.”

In his two-page resignation letter, Sharpe raised a number of concerns, including the “unintended consequences of Act 46 school unification.”

The law was envisioned to protect small community schools, Sharpe wrote, but “nevertheless, the newly formed centralized school boards with increased power over district policies and practice, accompanied by superintendents also with increased control over school district activities quickly proposed the closing of small community schools as soon as the window of opportunity opened.”

Sharpe suggested a merger with ANWSD would lead to more of the same.

All of this has had adverse consequences in the MAUSD, he said, referring to Superintendent Patrick Reen’s 2020 proposal to consolidate the district’s five elementary schools into two buildings and then to merge with the ANWSD.

It was partially in response to that plan that Lincoln and Starksboro launched bids to withdraw from the district.

“(Reen) came forward with a plan which might be a valid educational plan although it didn’t recognize the political reality of proposing to close three community elementary schools within the district,” Sharpe told the Independent. “The board and its leadership should have had a greater sense of political reality and quickly taken the plan off the table.”

In his resignation letter, Sharpe also expressed frustration that the MAUSD board “seems determined to allow the superintendent to run the school without guidance or support presumably until a crisis in the district rises to the level of dismissing him from office. My view of board operation is for the board to be much more engaged before issues rise to the level of a crisis.”

Such engagement might include increasing the board’s financial literacy and forming a committee to examine how the district might address such challenges as the rising controversy over “how to address racism and LGBTQ issues in school education,” he suggested.

Sharpe is also conflicted over how the district has been handling discipline issues, he said.

“I understand the notion of due process and potential physical abuse by staff as concerns, however, a single student cannot be allowed to disrupt the education of an entire classroom, inhibit a teacher’s ability to teach, and destroy property,” he wrote, referring to incidents that occurred last fall at Bristol Elementary School.

‘FRUSTRATED’

Ultimately, he wrote, “I have been frustrated in my efforts to protect our public schools system and can’t seem to communicate my concern in a way that resonates with other board members or board leadership.”

Still, he added, “I respect the time and effort required from school board members now more than ever.”

Reen and MAUSD board chair Dawn Griswold declined to comment for this story.

In her “Chair Notes” accompanying the April 26 school board meeting agenda, Griswold thanked Sharpe for his service and wished him well in his future endeavors.

Griswold also noted that the MAUSD board has until May 30 to fill the seat, which it will do in collaboration with the Bristol selectboard. Those who wish to be considered for the post should contact board clerk Jennifer Bauer at the MAUSD central office.

Reach Christopher Ross at christopherr@addisonindependent.com.

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