At a Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board meeting on April 14, the board scheduled another vote on whether or not the district should merge Harwood Union Middle School (HUMS) students at Crossett Brook Middle School (CBMS) starting fall of 2022. The vote will take place on May 26 and will be one last chance for the board to abandon the merger if it is so inclined.
However, when a middle school merger committee of three board members (Lisa Mason, Jonathan Clough and Jeremy Tretiak) met on April 20 to discuss the potential merger, each board member spoke as if the merger was certainly going to happen. “As a board, we decided we want to move forward with this. Next week, we will be talking about what that means,” said Lisa Mason, Moretown.
Mason made the case for community engagement, advocating that the board reach out to administrators and the general public regarding their opinions on the best way to assure a smooth transition to a merger.
Together, the three committee members made a community engagement plan. They proposed that the board send out a communitywide survey about the merger and suggested that the board extend its public comment period time over the next few meetings to allow ample time for community members to share their opinions about the merger.
However, when board chair Torrey Smith jumped on the call, she reminded committee members that this information-gathering process shouldn’t just focus on asking people whether or not they want a merger: It should focus on asking them how they want it done. “We decided what’s happening with the middle school. Now we need to decide what’s happening with the facilities,” said Smith.
Clough, Warren, emphasized that the board really needs community feedback on facilities: How does the community feel about temporary classrooms? How do they feel about paying for these classrooms with a bond?
Tretiak said he believes the board can attract community feedback simply by making decisions well, which is to say, warning decisions publicly and loudly.
Some members of the public voiced their concerns about the community engagement process. For instance, Moretown resident Cory Stephenson worried that the board prioritized informing the community about the merger, rather than seeking community input.
“Is the goal to inform or to sell the idea of the merger to the public?” she asked. “How are you going to include community input on a decision that has to be made by the end of May?”
Along the same vein, former board member Maureen McCracken asked, “What are you informing about, and what are you truly inviting decision making on?”
McCracken agreed that community surveys are a great way to get a broad range of input. Committee members will propose their community engagement plan, which involves a survey and extended public comment time, at the next HUUSD Board meeting on April 28.
OPEN MEETING LAW
This week’s subcommittee Zoom meeting ran afoul of Vermont’s Open Meeting Law by providing a public invitation that didn’t allow the public to see participants in the call or who raised a hand to ask a question. While covering the meeting, The Valley Reporter raised the issue to other board members, prompting an on-screen response from Smith, offering to cure the violation. Tretiak posted screen shots of the list of public participants and board members. Smith is looking into how this Zoom invitation was different from regular HUUSD Zoom invitations.