Friends of Fayston, a group of Fayston residents, came together on September 19 to air concerns and ask questions regarding school board work and decision-making practices.
The meeting was held at the Fayston town office with residents, school board representatives, select board members and state Representative Kari Dolan in attendance.
The group met to discuss residents’ concerns and questions regarding bond work and school district reconfiguration. Many Fayston attendees were opposed to the fact that the school board narrowed the 27 options for district configurations to three, or four, with a do-nothing model, with only internal input. Other residents were angry over the decision-making process without any data.
Concerns stemmed from the school board not involving other constituents in the configuration process or hiring outside consultants to determine costs associated with reconfiguration. Residents were encouraged to do their own research to be better informed and to ask questions as all of the information that goes to the board comes internally from the district’s administrative team. The administrative team was tasked with costing out selected models from the school board.
Individuals questioned the process as to why the board was discussing closing schools before all costs analyses for the entire district were presented. Individuals thought that there has been an ongoing two-year process of demoralizing faculty within the district and whole communities.
Residents asked if the Fayston Select Board could write a letter airing concerns and asking in-depth questions, like the Moretown Select Board did this summer.
Fayston is the second town to bring up a local “Brexit” from Act 46. Residents said that the select board could be helpful and ask for clarification from the school board. Community members want to know what the ripple effect on students will be if a school closes.
Other concerned parents said they took their children out of crowded schools, such as Thatcher Brook Primary School in Waterbury, and moved them to a smaller demographic such as Fayston to get the one-on-one time they needed with educators. Another question raised asked how much, if any, would be saved in the overall budget in closing any one school? When that question was raised, residents added they couldn't sell the building anyway – perhaps to the town for a low number.
Theresa Membrino, who is one of two Fayston representatives on the school board, spoke at the meeting: "As one of the school board representatives for Fayston, I can't tell you how many people have come up to me and said, ‘This is the most important thing to me about our town, like this day, this breakfast, that the school puts on.’ That is feedback I've heard at least 20 times."
Residents questioned how the board is supposed to get the packet of information on Monday, September 23, regarding configuration information, and conduct community outreach and make a decision for a bond vote by November 13.
A Fayston resident asked Tim Jones, the other Fayston representative on the school board, where his vote would be cast. One Fayston resident said she knows Membrino is voting with the best interests of students, community and taxpayers in mind.
Jones said, "My position is, I have two kids in the school and my voting record is consistent with wanting to keep the school open. My communication with the select board in June, my communication with this group when we met at Mad River has been constant. Fayston is open. That's my approach, and as James has articulated tonight and Theresa, there's a lot of heavy lifting to come ahead of us, so I encourage everyone to stay constructive and certainly communicate with us what you'd like to see, and come to the meetings."
Jones added he prefers the status quo but has to take into account the other representatives around the table.
District residents have started an online petition to keep Valley schools open and disconnect this issue from the Harwood bond vote.
The Harwood school board met on Wednesday, September 25, as the Valley Reporter went to press.