Andrew McKeever Photo
Members of the Arlington School Board met Sept. 27 at the Arlington Memorial High School library, to review options going forward under Act 46/49.
GNAT-TV News Project
ARLINGTON — With the collapse of 3×1 “side by side” consolidation between the school districts of Arlington, Sandgate, Stratton and Winhall having eliminated one possible Act 46 option, it’s back to the drawing board for school directors of the Arlington School District.
At their board meeting Wednesday, Sept. 27, the directors faced the prospect of having to produce a recommendation for the state’s Agency of Education by sometime in December that would pass muster. Their preferred outcome would be to have the education agency and the state board approve continuing Arlington’s — and by possible extension the Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union, of which Arlington is a part along with Sandgate — existing governance structure and operation.
A study committee consisting of some of the school members and local residents has been meeting to develop options and recommendations for the school moving forward. They are working on producing a report which could be ready later this month or by mid-November, board members were told. They requested the BVSU’s business office develop cost comparisons between the current BVSU operating costs to what those costs would be if the Arlington School District were to join the the Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union, or the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union.
“Our options are pretty limited right now,” said Kevin Smith, an Arlington School Board member who is also on the study committee.
By December, the BVSU has to submit a report to state state board of education outlining how they will meet five goals set forth under Act 46, William Bazyk, the superintendent of the BVSU, told the board and the audience attending the board meeting at the library in the Arlington Memorial High School.
The report will need to address student-staff ratios, enrollment projections,backed up with financial data. They will also have to account for how they will be meeting or exceeding the state’s educational goals at a cost that’s considered appropriate — which will be an intensive task they will need to crack in a relatively short amount of time.
That will also mean re-engaging with Sandgate to see what they want to do, because a supervisory union has by definition to have at least two school districts under state law, he said.
Those financial considerations “ will be important,” Bazyk added.
The financial considerations took on an added edge Monday, Oct.2, when Rebecca Holcombe, the secretary for the Agency of Education, said a 7 – 9 cent increase in the statewide property tax was possible, given the need to backfill a more than $47 million hole in the state’s education fund, according to a report in VTDigger. https://vtdigger.org/2017/10/02/depleted-education-fund-makes-for-likely-tax-increase/#.WdOR3RNSyi4
The BVSU would have an advantage in trying to make its case for continuing on with its existing governance structure because Arlington is the only public school between Mt. Anthony Union High School in Bennington and Mill River High School in Wallingford, and is surrounded by school choice communities.
“That could be something the State School Board might like,” he said. “We have to get going on this pretty quickly.”
The 3×1 consolidation with Winhall, Stratton and Sandgate would have preserved the school district and its two schools, Fisher Elementary and the Arlington Memorial High School, but the other three “non-operating” school districts — so-called because none of the three towns operate their own public school within their town boundaries — were unable to form a merged school district. The main issue which sundered that plan was the impact on tax rates, which would have risen in all three communities, and chilled their enthusiasm for the idea. A dramatic rise in the student population of Winhall was projected to be likely to boost taxes there by roughly 35 cents, and that cost which have impacted Sandgate and Stratton as well, since they would be part of one merged, consolidated district.
A citizen-based study committee has been meeting and working in Arlington for the past several weeks, and anticipates having a recommendation to submit to the board shortly. But that will likely be focused an analysis of what it would cost the district to remain as is – a standalone district that’s part of the Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union, compared to what expenditures would be if the school district joined one of the other existing supervisory unions it adjoins – the Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union or the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union.
And the clock is ticking. With a report from the school district to state education officials due in December, the board now has a tight time schedule to analyze the financial data, along with making a convincing case that it can satisfy other criteria to justify remaining an independent district that controls its affairs locally.
It will be an uphill battle, Bazyk told the board members and the dozen or so residents attending the meeting, several of whom were members of the citizen-based study committee.
“If we are going to retain our current governance structure then we have to get started on it immediately,” he said. “This work has to start and it will be too late to change lanes or direction.”
A draft of the proposal should be ready by the end of October. The next board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 25. The board discussed having the draft prepared by then or by the board’s meeting in Nov. 15.
Maintaining local control of the school buildings were an important priority, board members were told by one of the study committee members.