The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board will consider shrinking board membership after it passed a motion to “continue to explore the possibility of board reconfiguration” on December 16. As of now, the board is comprised of 14 members: a chair, a vice chair and two representatives from each town. While “exploring board reconfiguration” is an open-ended term, discussion revolved largely around shrinking the board and moving it to an eight-person model, with a chair, vice chair and just one representative from each town.
The motion to pursue board reconfiguration passed, but board members were split 7 to 7 in the vote. Since each member’s vote is weighted differently based on their town’s population, however, the weighted vote came out to 53.35% to 46.65% in favor of exploring reconfiguration.
Some board members who voted in favor of exploring board reconfiguration hypothesized that a smaller board would allow for speedier meetings and more effective conversations. For instance, vice chair Torrey Smith, Duxbury, said, “I think that having a conversation with eight people might make it easier to create problem solving and natural conversational potential that’s harder with 14. I will be voting to continue the exploration.”
Alex Thomsen, Waterbury, agreed. “I feel like this enables the possibility of a more equal feeling conversation around the table with a smaller group of people that could dialogue more effectively and take less time. I will vote to continue this conversation, though I don’t feel strongly one way or the other, but I think it’s an exploration worth continuing,” said Thomsen.
On the other hand, some board members like Lisa Mason, Moretown, worried that shrinking the board would infringe on representational democracy. “In a district our size, moving down to eight members feels like we’re moving farther away from representational democracy rather than closer to it,” said Mason. “For that reason, I don’t think it’s a good idea. Given the size of towns and the varying viewpoints within them, it’s hard to elect one person that’s going to represent the full spectrum of viewpoints.”
Christine Sullivan, Waitsfield, who voted in favor of the motion, pointed out that reconfiguration discussion does not need to revolve solely around shrinking the board. “We could pursue a policy governance model, if we wanted that. If we wanted a representational model, we could add three or four Waterbury members. Those are all things that could be part of the discussion,” said Sullivan.
Finally, Kelley Hackett, Waterbury, who voted against the motion, pointed out what a smaller board would mean in terms of workload. “With all the committees that we have, I think a smaller board would just create a lot more work for each of the members. More hands make lighter work. It could be a hard sell to get people to want to join the board because the amount of work would increase per person,” said Hackett.