With the resignation of Heidi Spear, one of the two Fayston representatives on the Harwood Unified Union School District Board, comes the need to find a replacement.
State education law, prior to Act 46 and the creation of unified union school districts such as ours, 16 VSA, 7061, bullet 2, says, “If a member represented a town that does not have a school board, the clerk shall immediately notify the select board of the town. Within 30 days of the receipt of that notice, the select board shall appoint a person who is otherwise eligible to serve as a director from that district to fill the vacancy until an election at a special or annual district meeting is held.”
But that statute applies to union schools and school districts and joint schools. The HUUSD is none of those things. It is a unified union school district under the terms of Vermont’s Act 46 and its articles of association do not speak to vacancies but do require that “the board be made up of 14 individuals elected by Australian ballot by the voters of the municipalities in which they reside.”
There are also existing education laws that require a school board to fill its own vacancy, as used to happen when we had individual town school boards. But we don’t have individual boards anymore. We have a combined board.
The question is, who should elect an individual town’s reps to our big board? Should those who want to replace Spear as Fayston’s rep to the big board be vetted and selected by the reps from the other towns or by their own townspeople?
According to the Vermont secretary of state’s office, the law does provide that when a board member was elected to an open, warned position by voters of only one town, then that town could petition the unified board to replace that member via a warned town vote. The petition would need signatures from 5 percent of registered voters.
It’s not completely clear legally how to interpret statutes that are written without regard for unified union districts and the disparate language that Vermont’s unified union districts used to incorporate.
There are still many unknowns as we work with our newly unified union school district. Given that we have a way to let the voters of a town select their representatives, via petition for a town election versus unified board selection, when vacancies arise, perhaps we should err on the side of the most representative democracy as possible by encouraging interested townspeople to petition for the right to elect their own representative.