Regarding Act 46, a statewide law that would consolidate school boards and budgets throughout Vermont by 2019, “There are a lot of unanswered questions and confusions,” said Warren PTO member Ashley Woods. “Is it detrimental to teachers? What are the drawbacks? How difficult is it to become independent?”
Warren PTO and community members have formed a group called Exploring Independence and they are hoping to learn more about the process of creating local, independent Valley schools in a panel presentation that they have organized for January 25 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Warren Town Hall.
“We really just want to let The Valley schools—not just Warren—know what their options are,” said Woods. “Independence is legal in the state and very soon it may not be.”
At a January 12 Warren PTO meeting, members discussed a loophole in state law that would allow for schools to bypass consolidation under Act 46.
The Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) Act 46 study committee, composed of representatives from each Valley school, has unanimously decided to proceed on an accelerated path toward the implementation of Act 46, which comes with tax incentives for some schools.
On Tuesday, PTO members asked Alycia Biondo, one Warren representative on the study committee, why the group is “pushing for the accelerated merger.” They said that the tax incentives—often cited as the primary reason for pursuing the merger—would not be awarded to Warren and Waterbury.
“Not a single person on our board is for consolidation, but we’ve accepted it as inevitability,” Biondo said. She cited school choice, resource sharing across districts and the ability for certain educators who normally work part time at one school to find full-time employment spread throughout the union as benefits to the merger. However, Warren principal Beth Peterson called attention to one downside of employee sharing, explaining that principals may not have a say in which employees are sent out to schools.
Peterson also said that “a lot of things have already been consolidated—transportation, special education and curriculum. The new ed standards call for coordination across the supervisory union. That’s already happening with or without ACT 46.”
Act 46 study committee members have been working with legal consultants to draft a series of bylaws that can be somewhat personalized for Valley schools—something the state is offering to districts that comply with the accelerated transition. One PTO member called this effort “a Band-Aid” and asked why the bylaws state that they would only be in effect for four years.
Biondo said that the committee “looked at other unions’ bylaws that were approved by the AOE, and I think anything more than four years, the AOE has been turning those (bylaws) down.”
These bylaws will not be available to the public until the public votes on the accelerated merger. “We chose to not put a draft out. We didn’t want there to be a mill of misinformation and it’s changing all the time,” Biondo explained.
The group, Exploring Independence, is currently compiling a panel of people working in school districts outside of The Valley where independence has been explored. They will be collecting questions from community members beforehand, via their website: exploringindependence.org. The event is free and open to the public.