Supervisory Union Still in Limbo
Bethel — State education officials today are expected to again consider whether to dissolve the Windsor Northwest Supervisory Union and move several of the Bethel-area towns into the Orange-Windsor Supervisory Union.
But the State Board of Education, which is to meet this morning in Burlington, may also vote to again delay any formal action until January in order to give officials in the two school districts time to study the advantages and cost implications of a potential merger.
Under the latest plan under consideration, the Windsor Northwest towns of Granville, Hancock, Stockbridge, Rochester and Bethel would become part of Orange-Windsor, which is currently comprised of Sharon, Royalton, Tunbridge, Strafford and Chelsea.
Pittsfield is seeking to be incorporated into another school district, the Windsor Central Supervisory Union. This consolidation will be voted on separately.
Supervisory unions manage budgeting, special education, curriculum services and transportation, along with other administrative duties. The suggested consolidation of Windsor Northwest and Orange-Windsor comes on the heels of declining school enrollment in the 466-student Windsor Northwest and efforts by the Legislature to reduce spending by consolidating smaller supervisory unions into larger districts.
The latest proposal was brought forward by five of the six members of a superintendents group from school districts in the White River Valley and surrounding area. The State Board of Education in December had postponed action on an earlier plan that would have sent only Bethel and Rochester to Orange-Windsor, Stockbridge and Pittsfield to Windsor Central, and Granville and Hancock to the Washington West Supervisory Union. However, the plan was rejected and school officials were given until June 1 to come up with a new proposal.
“The superintendents group believes its proposal would result in a minimum of disruption for students, school districts and supervisory unions. That the resource distribution would be more equitable, and that it would create an enticing opportunity for a new governance structure in conformance with the proposals being discussed in the Legislature,” a May 4 letter from the group says.
The letter also says that under the consolidation plan, no schools would be required to close in the foreseeable future and that the newly formed Orange-Windsor would be eligible for a $150,000 incentive grant under Act 153, the law that encourages Vermont school districts to merge voluntarily. The latest proposed merger would mean there could be four small high schools in a 10-town Orange Windsor district — Royalton, Whitcomb in Bethel, Chelsea and Rochester.
However, there is significant opposition to the latest proposal. John Poljacik, the superintendant of Windsor Northwest, was the only member of the superintendents group who did not sign the letter. Poljacik recently retired, and is being replaced by Meg Powden. In a letter to the Board of Education, Powden said that she was looking forward to working on district consolidation but emphasized the importance of small schools.
“To do this work well, I ask for time and flexibility,” Powden said in a May 23 letter. “The time needed to meet with all stakeholders to discuss logistics and ensure a smooth transition for our personnel and students. Also, the flexibility to make adjustments with the proposed groupings, in case, after careful deliberations a district determines they want to align with another supervisory union and that union is willing to accept them.”
Carl Groppe, the chairman of the Windsor Northwest Supervisory Board, also wrote a letter to the Board of Education, in which he asked that Windsor Northwest be granted a yearlong extension to come up with a proposal of its own. He said that although Windsor Northwest was willing to consider consolidation, it did not want to be forced into it.
“If the State Board votes to take this action on June 24, it flies in the face of many centuries of Vermonters’ and Vermont’s recognizing ‘local control’ as a core Vermont value,” Groppe said.
The chair of the Rochester School Board also expressed similar concerns in a June 3 letter. “In this letter we wish to make clear, however, that the Rochester School Board is not opposed to considering consolidation with other supervisory unions. But we are understandably opposed to our school district’s being forced to consolidate,” wrote Jolanta Labejsza, chairwoman of the Rochester School Board.
Today’s meeting will be held at 9 a.m. at the Sheraton in Burlington.
L auren Bender can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3211.