NEWFANE -- Should Newfane’s school board shrink?
That’s what voters will decide at this year’s Town Meeting, as officials will request permission to downsize the board from five to three members.
The reason is simple -- a lack of participation.
"The last year and half has suggested to the (Brookline-Newfane) joint board that we can’t sustain five school directors from Newfane," said Kim Friedman, who chairs both the Newfane and joint boards.
"There either isn’t the interest, or people aren’t available to keep all five positions filled," she added.
The two-town NewBrook Elementary School is overseen by the eight-member joint board, which consists of the five-member Newfane School Board and the three-member Brookline School Board.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. Friedman said there have been two vacancies on the Newfane board for more than a year, and attempts to drum up interest in serving yielded no results.
"We made a concerted effort, and people were very gracious and very supportive, but nobody was willing to take the leap," Friedman said.
She said the problem is not specific to Newfane or to NewBrook School.
"I would be more disheartened if I thought it was a reflection of people’s attitudes about the (Newfane) board and the work of the joint board," Friedman said. "We know from the Vermont School Boards Association that this is an issue statewide."
Aside from the current board vacancies, there is concern that there will not even be enough interest at Town Meeting to seat a functional Newfane School Board.
That’s because all five slots are open, and it is not clear how many candidates will vie for the board’s two available one-year terms and three available three-year terms.
For her part, Friedman has decided she will not run again, citing the position’s demands on her time.
"It’s been eight years," she said. "And I’ve loved every minute of it. And I need a break."
An article asking Newfane Town Meeting voters to eliminate two school board positions "will be the first order of business in the school portion of the meeting," Friedman said.
If approved, the change will by necessity lead to a downsizing of the Brookline-Newfane Joint Board from eight members to six. Both towns then would have three members.
A mathematical "weighting" formula would remain in effect, however. Under the joint board’s contract, votes are weighted this way -- .6 for each Newfane member and .333 for each Brookline member.
"We are required by law to have weighted voting, because Newfane has a larger population base," Friedman said.
She noted, however, that the distinction has not played a role in any board decisions.
"We operate by consensus as a board," Friedman said. "And we have never had a debate over a school matter that split on town lines."
It remains to be seen whether Newfane voters will be split on decreasing the number of representatives the town sends to joint Brookline-Newfane school meetings.
"I hope that there is a lively discussion about it, because it raises questions about the viability of our educational representation," Friedman said.
In a separate matter, a vote on NewBrook Elementary’s proposed $2.17 million budget for the 2014-15 school year has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 12 at the school.
An informational meeting on the budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 6 at the school.
In addition to the Newfane school board positions, there are a number of other elected Newfane spots open this year including town clerk, treasurer, delinquent tax collector, constable and lister.
On Newfane Selectboard, there are two one-year seats and one three-year seat available.
And on the Leland & Gray school board, there are one two-year seat and one three-year seat available.
Candidate petitions are due at the town office by 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 27.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.