VERNON >> School Board members voted to leave the Act 46 Study Committee formed within the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union.
"We looked at this as being harmful to the towns on many levels," said Mike Hebert, Vernon Elementary School Board chairman and state representative. "We looked at it and consulted with the Select Board and they're standing firm with the School Board on this."
On Monday night, the School Board went into executive session. According to unapproved minutes, the board cited "confidential attorney-client communication made for purposes of providing professional legal services to the district with regard to the Act 46 Study Committee and potential contracts where the board finds that premature public knowledge would place the district at a substantial disadvantage."
The Select Board was invited to join the executive session and no action was taken until board members came out of it.
Then a motion — for Vernon School District "to withdraw immediately from the Act 46 Study Committee and Vernon School District shall not be a member of any Act 46 district in which Vernon is only an advisable district" — was approved by all four School Board members. The School Board plans to fill a vacancy at its next meeting after Marylynn Scherlin was elected delinquent tax collector and School Board member during elections in March. She cannot hold both positions.
The current articles of agreement that could come up in a vote by June 30 would see towns served by the WSESU deciding whether an "accelerated merger" would combine all the districts in the supervisory union to make one. And if one town said no, then a modified-union school district would be formed with those that approved.
An accelerated merger would allow homestead taxpayers in the district to receive a 10-cent reduction per $100 of assessed value. Then it would drop to 8 cents, 6 cents, 4 cents and 2 cents in the following years.
Forming a modified-union district or MUD would give taxpayers the 8-cent break and the smaller ones in subsequent years. But the 10-cent incentive would not be available.
This "two-tiered" system of vote offers "no exit or reset" for Vernon, Hebert told the Reformer on Tuesday.
"We feel it should be a single question," he said.
The board worried that if Vernon still participated as an advisable district then it would "have very little power," said Hebert, who voiced similar concerns at a meeting with officials from the Agency of Education and Vermont School Boards Association on Monday morning.
"We would like to have the authority to reset the process so we can look at all the options and prospects," he said. "To us, there is no harm with taking the time to give this new consideration and really be sure it's in the best interest of the schools in the district. Once you're into this new process, you're in. There's really no off-ramp. We're very concerned with what we finalize."
An advisable district is not a "necessary district" in a merger, according to the Agency of Education. A merger can only proceed if voters in each "necessary district" approve of it.
An advisable district is described by the agency as one that "would be a positive addition to the new union school district but that is not necessary to its formation." It can be a formal member of the study committee but does not need to be.
If a district is identified as advisable in a proposal, which would go to the state Board of Education before voters, then the advisable district's school board would decide whether the proposal should go to its electorate for a vote. But if 10 percent of the advisable district's voters signed a petition, that district would need to warn and hold a vote.
Vernon is unique in the WSESU as it offers school choice to its students. Other schools send their students to Brattleboro Union High School. Dummerston, Guilford, Putney and Brattleboro districts are also part of the supervisory union.
Contact Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.