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School boards missing members

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 4/4/2022 9:38:28 PM
Modified: 4/4/2022 9:37:50 PM

In the wake of Town Meeting season, several Upper Valley communities — including Bethel, Royalton, Strafford, Bridgewater and the Rivendell district towns — find themselves with vacant seats on school boards. For some schools, this is not an unusual circumstance; for others, vacancies such as these tend to be few and far between.

Bethel and Royalton are seeking one member each to sit on the two towns’ shared White River Valley School District Board.

“We’ll be publicizing the vacancies,” White River Valley School District Board Chairman Andrew Jones said.

Along with other districts in similar situations, White River Valley will publicize the vacancies with hopes of recruiting individuals willing to be appointed to the positions.

“We have had vacancies in the past,” Jones said. “(But) having two at once is certainly unusual.”

The two former board members who gave up their spots “both just had other commitments,” according to Jones, including professional responsibilities that made it difficult to continue to hold a seat.

Elsewhere in the White River Valley Supervisory Union, the Strafford District Board of School Directors has one board member vacancy and is requesting applications from interested residents be submitted by April 11. Applicants are asked to describe why they want to serve on the board, qualifications and experience.

Candidates will be interviewed by the directors and one will be appointed by the board on April 14 at a public special meeting held at the Newton School beginning at 7 p.m. Community members can also attend the meeting remotely.

In Bridgewater, board member Matthew Hough finds himself alone in representing his town among six others that are members of the Windsor Central Unified Union School District.

“This isn’t the first time that I’ve been the only representative,” he said.

Bridgewater is allowed two representatives on the board, and one vacancy is like a missing half, leaving Hough with no one to collaborate with and leaving the town with one less vote on the board.

Hough is eager to see someone step up to the position and has been making recruitment efforts by word-of-mouth in his community, passing the message along while out running errands, or attending his children’s sports games.

“I’ve always found that it’s hard to get somebody to do this,” Hough said.

A common dilemma, Hough has found, is wanting to contribute meaningfully to the board but only being able to meet a certain time commitment that realistically fits into the rest of your life. This, he said, has contributed to the resignation of former board members.

“People come and go all the time,” he said.

It’s the responsibility of the town to fill the vacant position, said Sherry Sousa, Windsor Central Supervisory Union superintendent.

With 18 total board members spread across the district, Sousa noted that “there’s always a few positions available” and having vacancies is not unusual.

When a recruit is found, the Bridgewater Selectboard can appoint them for a one-year term, and the appointee will have to run again during Town Meeting next year if they want to continue holding the position.

The Rivendell Interstate School District announced in an email last Friday that after Town Meeting, there were no candidates for an at-large school board member, a district treasurer, and a district clerk.

Though the offices received write-in votes, none met the required 1% of the checklist.

The board plans to address these vacancies at 6:30 on Tuesday, in a board meeting at the District Office in Orford. Eligible candidates must be a resident of one of the four Rivendell Towns — Orford, Fairlee, West Fairlee or Vershire.

The former at-large board member, according to Board Chairwoman Kathy Hooke, decided to retire after holding the position for about a decade.

Pre-COVID, Hooke said, people have run write-in campaigns when there was no name on the ballot for a particular office. During the pandemic, these campaigns were more difficult to orchestrate with voting straying from normal practices.

“A vacancy for the school board is relatively uncommon for us,” Hooke said.

Rose Terami can be reached at rosoterami@gmail.com.




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