TOWNSHEND - Throwing a monkey wrench into what has been an extensive discussion, members of the Windham Board of Directors said they are not interested in becoming part of a regional educational district if the local school union district elects to form one.
Speaking for members Antje Ruppert and Beth McDonald at Wednesday’s Regional Education District Study Committee presentation, board Chairwoman Carolyn Partridge thanked the committee for all its work and care but said they would like to pull out of the discussion of a potential RED.
Members of six different boards of directors convened in the Leland & Gray Middle & High School library on Wednesday for the committee’s presentation. Representatives from the Townshend, Brookline, Newfane, Jamaica, Windham and Leland & Gray boards - which make up the Windham Central Supervisory Union - accepted an invitation from the RED Committee’s 10 members to hear the benefits of turning their union school district into a RED. School Superintendent Steven B. John was also in attendance.
The RED committee was formed some time ago to explore the pros and cons of consolidating into a regional education district. Membership is comprised of representatives from the five towns.
As she was leaving Wednesday’s meeting, Partridge - a Democrat who is also the Windham 4 representative to Montpelier - said the other towns can still choose to form a RED, but Windham will
Her announcement, an hour and 20 minutes into the meeting, came as a surprise to committee chairwoman Emily Long.
"That changes things for us, certainly," she said.
The remainder of the presentation seemed to be somewhat moot, as the Windham board’s decision affects the discussion.
The Vermont Department of Education is pushing for all supervisory unions to consist of just one school board, as opposed to having a board for each school in the SU. According to the department, a RED is a specialized type of union school district that offers incentives to its member districts for creating "a USD that has the characteristics of a RED."
"The rationale for the creation of this incentive system is that larger school districts afford their students broader opportunities," states the DOE’s website, "while at the same time reducing costs, in the long term, through economies of scale and through more efficient utilization of buildings and personnel."
LeeAnne Parker, a RED Committee member from Brookline, touched on the potential benefits to school children in a switch.
As her part of the presentation, she said there would be an increase in flexibility in assigning staff that can best meet the needs of students. She said other positives include equity in program offerings across schools, an alignment of curriculum to better prepare students coming together in Grade 7 and professional development and sharing across schools for improving instruction.
Bruce Parliman, a RED Committee member from Jamaica, explained how the organizational structure would change.
He said one school board would govern the five towns’ schools, including Leland & Gray. The board members will be elected by and from each of the towns and there would be one budget voted on by the citizens. There would also be continued membership in the WCSU with the other four towns.
Ruppert said the Townshend, Windham and Jamaica elementary schools - the three smallest - would benefit from the economy of scale in educational programming, facilities, maintenance, and shared staffing expertise. The three would become one unified elementary school.
Earlier in the evening, Ruppert had mentioned that simply having a small board does not equate to an increase in opportunities - though joining the elementary schools into one probably would.
The recommended articles of agreement in the Voluntary Regional Educational District Study Committee Report can be found at www.wcsu.net.
Authorization to engage in this RED Planning Committee process was voted in the affirmative separately by the boards of directors as early as September 2010.
The next RED Committee meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 7.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.