The state's latest effort to increase efficiency by dissolving supervisory unions across Vermont could have a lasting negative impact on The Valley's education system and Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) is looking to stop it.
At a meeting on November 27, the State Board of Education (SBE) elected via straw vote to move forward with a plan presented by the Agency of Education (AOE) to dissolve Windsor Northwest Supervisory Union (WNSU) which serves the communities of Bethel, Rochester, Stockbridge, Pittsfield, Hancock and Granville and to add Hancock and Granville to WWSU.
The AOE plan for redistricting the supervisory unions states that assuming administrative responsibility for the two towns will increase WWSU's budget by only $20,000 and that the WWSU will recoup roughly $19,000 of that increase in reductions in local assessments to WWSU's six towns, but WWSU superintendent Brigid Scheffert says otherwise.
Hancock and Granville currently pay $53,000 for their administrative services, "so how can they expect us to do it for $20,000?" Scheffert said at a December 6 meeting of the Harwood Union School Board. WWSU's local assessments would need to increase by approximately $131,000 "to actually pull this off," she said.
Without that money, the redistricting plan will likely mean "significant increases" to the budgets of all six existing schools within WWSU, Scheffert said, including those of Warren Elementary School, Waitsfield Elementary School, Moretown Elementary School and Harwood Union Middle School and High School.
In short, the AOE's redistricting plan "was not an impact study," Scheffert said. "They did not take into consideration our capacity at our central office," she said—not financially nor managerially—explaining that the increase in responsibility to an already large seven-school board supervisory union will make it much harder to attract qualified administrators for WWSU positions.
Both Hancock and Granville have pre-kindergarten through grade 12 school choice and attend 15 different schools, which would mean WWSU would have to establish a relationship and communicate on a regular basis with schools as far away as Middlebury, Killington and Bristol.
Currently, only 3 out of the 68 students from Hancock and Granville attend WWSU schools. And the bottom line is, "if they're not attending our schools, why should we be managing them and their individual education plans?" WWSU director of operations and finance Michelle Baker said.
"I think we need to look at education as a service industry," Fayston School Board chair Heidi Spear said, "and there isn't a service industry out there that would say it's a good idea to separate costs from revenue."
Students, under Vermont's education funding program, are essentially "revenue" for schools as higher attendance means lower per pupil costs.
In short, "students should be served by the supervisory unions of the school they are attending, or are inclined to attend," Scheffert said. "WWSU would happily enroll all the students from Hancock and Granville in our schools," she said. If they're going to become part of WWSU, "make them complete members of the family."
To make them complete members of the family would require the towns of Hancock and Granville to vote out their current school choice policies.
Scheffert stated her opposition to the AOE's redistricting plan at the November 27 meeting, as did the superintendents of the two other supervisory unions that will be affected by the redistricting plan, but the AOE's straw vote suggests they did not consider their concerns. "This [has all been] pretty quiet," Scheffert said, explaining that the state is forcing the decision through without board or voter approval.
Indeed, Spear said that she attended a training session earlier this year about maximizing efficiency across the supervisory unions, "and this was one of the examples," she said. "They've already decided that this is going to happen," she said. As WWSU plans to oppose the redistricting, "we're going to have to be really loud," she said. Last week, the board outlined plans to send letters and write op-ed pieces to gain media attention.
The SBE will conduct a final vote on the redistricting plan on Tuesday, December 17, and in the meantime, WWSU will do all it can to advocate for a delay.