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3 Vt. Schools Contemplate Board Merger

Randolph, Braintree, Brookfield To Decide How to Govern Schools

— Voters in Randolph, Braintree and Brookfield will decide on Election Day whether or not to change the way their schools are governed.

If the vote passes, the schools — which are currently run as the Orange Southwest Supervisory Union with five separate school boards — will be guided by just one eight-member board.

A study committee weighed the pros and cons of the switch and after a year of deliberation, all members unanimously favored the idea to shift to a regional educational district.

“We have done quite a bit of work looking at all of the angles and the impacts of bringing all of the schools together into one district,” said study committee Chairwoman Kristin Husher, a member of the Brookfield School Board. “After we did all the research there didn’t seem to be any downside to it.” For the past three years, the five school boards — which cover elementary schools in Randolph, Braintree and Brookfield; Randolph Union High School; and Orange Southwest Supervisory Union — met together as one. In order to make decisions, however, each board had to vote separately.

The Randolph Technical Career Center is also represented by an advisory board, which makes recommendations to the Supervisory Union board.

The shift, Husher said, would allow for increased efficiency across the schools — such as drafting one budget instead of five — and will also “preserve improvements already made by the current boards.” Previously, the boards consolidated departments, such as maintenance, food and transportation services “and kept ending up with improvements,” Husher said.

In order to continue to see cost savings, the study committee recommended switching to a regional district.

“When organizations work together for the common good, efficiencies are created that, quite simply, result in lower costs,” the study committee’s “Journey to Yes” report stated.

Another feature inside a regional district is the ability to share faculty, staff and administration — which currently can’t “easily” be done because each school hires their own staff.

“If we are looking school by school, a certain school may not need a specific talent, but maybe district-wide there is that need,” Husher said. “I see it as a way to keep our best teachers.” For example, she said, if an art teacher is part-time in one elementary school, that teacher could work in all three schools and create a full time position under a regional district.

In order for a district to be implemented, all three communities must vote in favor of the switch. If two communities vote for it and one against, the school system will remain as a supervisory union.

On the ballot, voters can also vote for the individuals who will sit on the eight-member board. Those voted onto the new board will start work with the existing boards immediately, as part of a “phased in approach.” The Vermont-NEA, the largest teachers union in the state, has not taken a formal position on the proposal, according to spokesman Darren Allen.

“We have not taken a position on this specific ballot question, but did support the law that allows votes such as these to take place. We believe that local voters and their communities should decide what is best for them and their children,” he said in an email.

Laura Soares, a facilitator for the study committee who also serves on the Randolph Union High School Board, said community members expressed one large concern with the switch to a regional district.

“People worried that this board eventually would be able to decide if they want to keep all three elementary schools,” Soares said. She said state law prohibits the board from closing a school within the first four years of the switch, which is expected to take effect in 2013 if approved by voters on Tuesday. A school could be closed earlier than the four-year minimum, but only if approved by voters in the existing school district where it is based.

In order to address fears from residents in the two smaller towns of Braintree and Brookfield, Soares said the regional educational district board would comprise of four Randolph, two Braintree and two Brookfield residents and was set up so a meeting couldn’t be held without two towns present and a quorum of six members.

“No one wants to do that (close down a school), not a teacher, parent, board member, administrator; we want to keep them open and strong and we think this will do that,” Soares said.

Former Randolph Selectman Larry Townsend, a Democrat who serves in the Vermont House, said he favors the switch and said a regional district will make the school boards’ current operating structure more concrete.

“Right now we have all the building blocks in place,” he said. “We have the framework for it, but it is just not official.” The candidates running for the regional educational district board, which has yet to be officially named, include:

∎ Braintree: Ann Howard and Angelo Odato

∎ Brookfield: Kristin Husher and Laura Rochat

∎ Randolph: Brooke Dingledine, Anne Kaplan, Andra Mills and Sarah Murawski.

No seat is contested.

Those interested in learning more about the shift to a regional educational district can attend one of two open forum meetings:

∎ Tonight at 7 p.m. at Brookfield Elementary School

∎ Monday, Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. at Randolph Elementary School (the meeting was rescheduled from Tuesday, Oct. 30, because of Hurricane Sandy).

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@gmail.com.