Questions abound at Act 46 merger meeting in Cavendish

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

Alison DesLauriers fields questions from Cavendish residents. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

About 40 community members gathered in the cafeteria of Cavendish Town Elementary on Tuesday night to hear a presentation on the proposed Act 46 merger of Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester to create a Green Mountain Unified School District.

They also asked questions of members of the Cavendish Town Elementary School Board and of the Act 46 Study Committee.

Alison DesLauriers, who served as chair of the subcommittee that worked out the details for the merger, gave a PowerPoint presentation explaining how the merger would consolidate six school boards into one, six budgets into one and reduce the amount of work needed by the Two Rivers Supervisory Union. She said the reductions would be part of savings that can be used to increase educational opportunities for students. The merger, she said, would also protect the small school grants and cushion small town districts like Baltimore, Cavendish and Andover from the negative tax consequences of shrinking student populations.

DesLauriers focused on the tax stabilization and educational opportunities aspects of the plan but returned over and over the the idea that passing it would protect the constituent towns from state governance mandates.

After the presentation, members of the audience asked a number of questions about the plan including:

Q. Did Cavendish consider merging with Ludlow?

Board members told the crowd that it was not considered because Cavendish is part of a union high school and the towns in the union – Cavendish, Chester and Andover – would have to vote to dissolve the union. Cavendish board member Doug McBride that there are “simply more opportunities at Green Mountain High.”

Cavendish board member Gene Bont tells how Cavendish and Chester came together years ago.

Cavendish board veteran Gene Bont said that many years ago half the town’s students went to Ludow and half went to Chester High School. The town had no seats on those boards and Cavendish had no buses. A student participating in extracurricular activities in those days could be hitchhiking home, he said.

Bont remembered that Cavendish sent identical letters to the two schools asking for representation on their boards. Ludlow, according to Bont, rejected the request, saying keep sending “your kids and your money.” On the other hand, Chester repled “why don’t we talk?” With some “sturm und drang” Chester and Cavendish became connected and began working on a new school to replace Chester’s old building (which Bont compared to Black River High School)  and together they built Green Mountain Union High School.

Q. If the merger passes will Two Rivers Supervisory Union be dissolved? Will there be TRSU staff cuts?

DesLauriers said that if the Ludlow/Mt Holly merger with Mill River passes, the Supervisory Union would have to be reduced in size and if the RED merger also passes, the new district will ask the State Board of Education if it could become a stand alone district without a supervisory union. If not, then the supervisory union would continue but as a much smaller entity primarily through staff cuts.

Q.   What will the expanded educational opportunities be?

Cavendish board member Fred Marin speaks about the protections that will accrue from approving the merger.

DesLauriers said that savings from the merger needs to go back into programming. “You’re going to elect a board of directors who have a say in this,” she said of the vote that will take place on Tuesday, May 2.

Cavendish board member Fred Marin noted that the merger protects the school when student population declines and staff is therefore cut, taking away educational opportunities. As part of the Green Mountain school district, if Cavendish Elementary loses students, it’s less likely it would have to cut staff, said Marin.

“In a small school it only takes a few students and you’re chasing your tail. That’s a waste of experienced teachers and a waste of professional development funds.”

DesLauriers pointed to more foreign languages including in elementary school as one possibility while a returning a metal shop to the high school would be a big ticket item when there is already a good program available at River Valley Tech.

Q.   The articles of agreement say that after four years, the school board can vote to close a school. How do we know Cavendish won’t be closed?

Several board members seemed surprised at the question and DesLauriers said that Chester-Andover Elementary is completely full and would not have room for additional students. McBride told the crowd that a new board could also make a bylaw that would give schools in the system more protection from closing.

After the meeting, The Telegraph called on all 11 candidates running for seats on the new board and asked: If you become a school director for the Green Mountain Unified School District, would you be in favor of considering a bylaw that would give elementary schools in the district greater protection than they have under article 8F of the articles of agreement? All 11 candidates said yes, they would consider greater protection for the district’s elementary schools.

Q.   Why does Chester get six seats on the board while Cavendish gets three?

Board members explained that the numbers are proportional representation based on population.

Q.   There’s a bill before the Vermont legislature to increase flexibility in school mergers. Why not vote No and wait for more flexibility?

Several board members acknowledged that legislation from the Senate has moved to the House but noted that the session is nearly over and it is doubtful that any changes will be made and the penalties for not merging would be coming.

“You have to minimize your maximum loss,” said Marin, referring to the protections afforded this type of merger, known as a Regional Education District.

“Take out all the rules, pressure and deadlines,” said McBride, “and this would still be a good idea.”


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