Vote set for merged elementary school budget

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WESTMINSTER — Voters in Westminster, Athens and Grafton will be asked to vote on the new merged elementary school budget of $6.9 million on July 15, according to the warning adopted by the transitional Windham Northeast Union Elementary School District board.

The transitional board adopted a four-article warning for the special meeting, which will be held at the Bellows Falls Union High School auditorium starting at 6 p.m. The board, which met in special session late Thursday afternoon before graduation ceremonies at BFUHS, also appointed several people to key positions - all in the goal of satisfying the Agency of Education, as well as a local bank in order to borrow money. The $6.9 million budget was created by combining budgets already approved by the three towns during March Town Meeting.

The board hopes to borrow money to cover its expenses until the budget is passed on July 15, said Edie Cole, finance manager for the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union and the new elementary school district. The three towns - Westminster, Athens and Grafton - are fighting the forced merger of its school administration under Act 46.

But faced with no state aid to education in July, the school boards started making some Act 46 concessions last week by creating a merged school budget and appointing a transitional board, which is made up of two school directors from each of the three towns. Formal elections are to come.

Cole said after the meeting that Athens and Grafton need $63,000 and Westminster $400,000 to cover expenses until the budget is approved. The four members of the transitional board who were present also appointed Rod Lawrence of Grafton to be the new elementary union treasurer and David Clark of Westminster to be assistant treasurer. In the event those two appointments don't pass muster with the Agency of Education, Rick Holloway, who is the current treasurer of the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, will step in.

In addition, Jessa Westclark of Grafton was elected assistant clerk in the absence of Lynn Morgan of Athens, who is clerk. The board members said they needed to have the clerk or assistant clerk sign documents immediately for Cole, so she could get them in the mail that evening for the state Agency of Education. While the transitional board is complying with some aspects of Act 46, Cheryl Charles, a Westminster board member, said their actions were in no way precluding the ongoing legal fight against Act 46, which has become a standard disclaimer at the board's meetings.

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"We should have it put on our letterhead," Westclark joked at one point.

uperintendent of Schools Chris Pratt again made clear that the board's legal advice did not match legal advice he was getting from the WNESU's former law firm - Stitzel Page & Fletcher of Burlington. The transitional board and the three towns have hired attorney Lawrence Slason of Bellows Falls, and Slason had mapped out careful steps for the board to take, although he wasn't present at the emergency meeting.

Slason has been conferring with attorneys at Stitzel Page, as well as the state Agency of Education over the controversy. Pratt said after the meeting there was "conflicting interpretation of the law," and under his superintendent's license, he had to follow Act 46. "Everyone's lawyers have a different interpretation," he said.

Chairman Jack Bryar of Grafton said the differences were "not substantive."

"We are on a pathway for what's best for the kids," he said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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