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Act 46 Meeting Agenda and Minutes

ACT 46 STUDY COMMITTEE Representing the Brattleboro Town School District, Dummerston Town School District, Guilford Town School District, Putney Town School District and the Vernon Town School District


The Act 46 Study Committee will meet at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 18, 2017 in the WRCC Cusick Conference Room.


I. CALL TO ORDER – 6:00 p.m. – Alice Laughlin, Committee Chair






Articles of Agreement – Review and Discussion
Review Vernon Town School District Vote – Result Implications for WSESU Districts
Review Schedule / Calendar



Note: In accordance with the following excerpt from WSESU Policy E-12 Electronic Communications Use and Retention

II. Use of E-Mail and Electronic Communications

The school board and administration will not use email as a substitute for discussion at board meetings, or for any business properly conducted at board meetings subject to the Vermont Open Meeting Law.

Brattleboro Town School District, Dummerston Town School District, Guilford Town School District, Putney Town School District and Vernon Town School District

Act 46 Study Committee
Work Session Agenda, Minutes & Action Items – June 21, 2017 at 6-8 PM – Oak Grove School

Brattleboro: Kim Price*, David Schoales**, Jill Stahl Tyler*, Spoon Agave*
BUHS/ BAMS/WRCC: Ricky Davidson*, Ian Torrey* * denotes voting member,
Dummerston: Kristina Naylor** ***, Amy Wall* - Clerk ** denotes alternate voting member,
Guilford: Beth Bristol*, Erin Tkaczyk* *** denotes ex officio member
Putney: Richard Glejzer**, Alice Laughlin* - Chair, Emily Pals**
Vernon: Walter Breau*, Mike Hebert**

Also present
WSESU: Ron Stahley – Superintendent, Lyle Holiday – Curriculum & Assessment
Others: Donna Russo-Savage and Brad James – VT Agency of Education, BCTV staff and members of the public listed on the public sign in sheet

Committee Guidelines
1. Work sessions will start and end on time.
2. Work sessions will last 2 hours unless decided otherwise by the Committee.
3. Members will give and receive with good intentions.
4. Members will follow “3 before me” as a guideline so all members have the opportunity to speak.
5. Members will conduct Committee business in front of the group.
6. Members will understand that silence on the part of another member does not imply agreement.
7. Members will site sources of evidence during discussion.
8. All members will be included in conversation and no side conversations will be conducted during the work session.
9. Members will stay on topic during discussions and will request the Clerk make note of additional topic(s) for future discussion.
10. Members will engage in the work at hand and administration will provide the space and support as needed to do so.

Agenda Items Led by
- Call to order Alice Laughlin
- Review, prioritize and establish desired outcomes for meeting Alice
- Review Study Committee member roles and public comments by Chair Alice
- Approve of minutes of previous work and info sessions – June 6 Alice
- Review Study Committee process by Chair Alice
- Recognition of groups and/or individuals Alice
- Study Committee Work Session Alice
- Review Process and compliance
- Future meetings, Discussions Alice
- Adjournment

Work Session Minutes:

Alice Laughlin called the work session to order at 6:11 pm and reviewed agenda items. She welcomed the public and guests - Donna Russo-Savage and Brad James from the Agency of Education and shared that Chris Leopold was unable to participate. Alice reviewed and confirmed with the Committee the process for questions – 1. written questions submitted by the Committee previous, 2. public questions read by Beth Bristol first 3. open questions from the Committee and 4. open questions from the floor.

On a motion made by Beth Bristol, seconded by Kim Price and so voted, the minutes of June 6 were accepted as written. Alice Laughlin abstained since she did not attend the June 6 work session.

Ron Stahley reviewed the June 21, 2017 draft of the Study Committee report and Articles. Changes are limited to updated dates, reference to the Vernon BUHS withdrawal vote on July 19, modification to wording in Article 15 – bulleted items - to reflect actual responsibilities and updated consolidated balance sheet.

Alice introduced Brad James and Donna Russo-Savage from the Agency of Education. Brad James shared that he is the Education Finance manager. He works with SU business managers and legislators to implement the education funding formula and develop tax rates. Donna Russo-Savage shared that she serves as the nonpartisan Governance Advisor. Prior to joining the AOE, she worked as legislative counsel specializing in educational law. She stated that she will provide information on the law but will not debate its merits. Donna reviewed the Study Committee’s written questions and provided information:

1. Are there other structures that would better serve students and communities?

Donna stated that 31 and 7 are the same question. She cited four main options for WSESU member districts:

a. Unified union district offering preK-12 with 1 board (all necessary)
b. Unified union district offering preK-12 (necessary and advisable) with fall back to MUDD if a community does not vote in favor of unification. For example, the unified district of Brattleboro, Guilford and Putney would offer preK-12 and Dummerston who voted “NO” would operate their own district for K-6.
c. Unified union elementary offering preK-6 with separate union high school district.
d. Stay as is.

Donna shared that Act 49 did not offer additional options such as the 3 x 1 or 2 x 2 x 1 because they do not apply to WSESU and its members. Act 49 does offer Vernon the ability to unilaterally withdraw from BUHS #6 without the approval of other members. If this vote is successful, then Donna pointed out that the remaining members are preK-12. Donna stated that the Study Committee uses available data to analyze and determine the option that is in the best interests of the students and communities that comply with the law. The Study Committee advances its proposal to the voters who then make a decision. If the vote fails, then the State Board of Education will determine final configuration based on a statewide plan. Donna shared two important notes:

e. Merger by itself won’t advance the educational and fiscal goals of Act 46 but it creates more flexibility and options to address goals together; and

f. The SU without Vernon is the structure that Act 156, 46 and 49 addresses since the legislature believes that this structure would benefit most from unification.

2. Does the AOE have any concerns about the report and its Articles of Agreement?

Donna stated that she has seen previous drafts but has not reviewed the June 21 draft. When reviewing the report, she will want it to address the Vernon issue, provide dates, how the communities will proceed, and reference to data and other options considered.

3. Can the AOE provide a timeline for meeting with the State Board of Ed, its review of the report with Articles and its decision?

Donna shared that when a report is submitted, there is information, discussion and feedback between the AOE and the Study Committee. For the first three options mentioned earlier, a public vote is needed by 11/30/17. Donna stated that the AOE review would need to be completed by the end of August and the draft recommendation by Secretary Holcombe completed. This information must be submitted to the State Board of Education 10 days prior to their meeting. Donna suggested that the September 19th meeting of the State Board would be appropriate if the Study Committee decided to proceed. The Study Committee would make a PowerPoint presentation to the State Board at the 9/19 meeting. While the State Board can always request additional information, the Study Committee may leave that meeting with a decision on its proposal.

4. Can the School Leadership Councils be strengthened?

Donna recommended working with legal counsel and VSBA to ensure clearly defined roles. The Leadership Councils cannot be unelected defacto school boards. The unified board can decide if stipends are offered and their amount.

5. Can the AOE clarify which articles can be changed by the unified board and which require a voter approval?

Donna stated that the Articles of agreement are amended only by the voters if provision is laid in the Warning Article for the unification vote. Some Articles are required by law and cannot be amended by voters. Ron Stahley shared that per legal counsel Chris Leopold the following Articles could NOT change: 1, 2 , 3 (required by law), 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, and 14. Donna suggested that wording could be included in the Warning Article that references Article 15 re: Leadership Councils and would require a vote of the electorate to change (not unified board).

6. Can the AOE provide a list of outcomes that the state is looking for and any metrics on the same to date?

Donna shared that Act 46 has broad outcomes – educational and fiscal. The legislature did not provide specific metrics because of the differences between districts throughout the state. Doing so would be an “apples to oranges” type comparison. The legislatures intent was that local districts would evaluate their performance and identify areas for improvement as proposed in a report with Articles of Agreement. The legislature saw the opportunity to create similar structures for an “apples to apples” comparison going forward.

7. Does the AOE see alternatives that apply to WSESU under the new law? See item #1.

8. How does the changes under Act 49 impact other alternatives previously considered by the Study Committee?

Donna stated that Act 49 extends the deadline for districts to report their findings, reports and Articles by 11/30/17. When completing a self study, districts need to provide proposal by 1/30/18. Information required would be the same information as the Study committee has looked at: self evaluation to meet goals of law, collaborate with other districts and data on how this is the best proposal. Educational quality standards must be meet.

Alice Laughlin requested that questions from the public be turned in to Beth Bristol who in turn read them aloud.

1. If 1 town votes no, what happens to Dummerston?

Donna stated that if the vote was for a unified union district, then the vote would fail if all members are listed as necessary. If Dummerston were listed as advisable, then a MUDD would be formed. Even with this formation, the State Board of Education will review and could recommend and implement unification. If the vote was for unified union elementary and Dummerston voted no, then BUHS district #6 remains, Dummerston operates it’s K-8 program and the other members operate a union elementary district.

2. If unification vote fails, will the State Board impose?

Donna stated that she had no idea what the State Board would do in the years ahead. There are two new members and two additional new members would be added by the time the State Board reviews and implements a statewide plan to meet goals of the law. The law says that the State Board “shall merger districts” and “redraw boundaries” to meet goals.

3. How is school property handled?

Donna pointed out that this would be addressed in the Articles of Agreement.

4. What is the difference between incentives versus transition costs and what are the effects after year 4?

Brad James stated that the incentives were designed to help with costs and allow unified districts to move forward. He doesn’t know implications after 495 years; however, logic dictates that if the population of WSESU member towns decreases and costs increase, then tax rates will increase if costs are not reduced. Larger districts provide protects against spikes due to high needs student and would stabilize tax rates. Brad anticipates taking a survey of the merged districts. Unofficially he has learned that those areas of the state who have already merged are seeing $3000-700K unanticipated savings.

5. If Vernon leaves and a merger if defeated, could Vernon rejoin SU and maintain school choice?

Donna stated that Vernon withdrew from BUHS, a merger was defeated and a proposal was made to stay as is, then Vernon could remain.

6. Is there a conflict of interest having Chris Leopold as the Study Committee’s legal counsel?

Donna stated that Chris is not a lawyer for the DOE. He has provided counsel for the State Board of Education on matters unrelated to mergers. She does not believe this is conflict of interest.

7. Article 9 of Act 49 defines AGS as WSESU is now – Can we present this model and further build programs?

Donna did not understand this question since it is an option already. Doing so would not protect from changes required when a statewide plan is proposed and implemented by the State Board of Education. The Secretary must propose a plan to the extent necessary to meet goals. Ultimately the Secretary and State Board are required by law to merge districts to meet Act 6 goals. This includes moving districts to the Preferred model.

8. Can we keep SU the same and operate like SPED?

Donna stated that this is not permitted by law because this is a different law and different situation. SU’s are not authorized to hire teachers under the law. Also doing so would create problems with budget control since the SU budget is not voted on by voters.

9. If the Study Committee does not hold more hearings in local communities, does the AOE feel the only action is a NO vote?

Donna pointed out that the law requires public hearing in all affected communities prior to a unification vote. She stated that there are no other alternatives in Act 49, no other options in Act 6 and that the number of public meetings is decided by the Study Committee and required by law.

10. Can a local board refuse to warn an Article for a MUDD?

Donna stated that when the articles are prepared, then a town must be listed as advisable in order to do this. However, 10% of registered voters can petition the board to warn the article and the school board must comply.

11. Will there be changes to 706N?

Donna stated that she has never heard this in her discussion on Act 46 and 49. Legislature is very careful and would not support any retroactive clauses in the law. She clarified that if the State Board requires unification of communities to comply with Act 46 and 49, than a default articles of agreement would be in place until voters had the opportunity to approve. The legislature requested proposals fro AOE, VSBA/VSA on draft articles and process to make changes to default articles. Donna shared that the default articles could disadvantage a community. Legislature will discuss and take testimony on this issue.

12. Is one budget and Australian ballot vote required?

Donna stated that the electorate decides on the voting method for a unified union budget – annual meeting floor vote or Australian ballot.

13. If a MUDD is formed, then how can voters understand board make up and financial implications?

Donna stated that the make of the board is clearly defined in statute and is based on census/population data. Brad James pointed out that if MUDD was formed, then multiple models are possible based on situation.

Alice thanked Beth for reading the written questions submitted by the board and the public present. She opened the floor to Study Committee members; however, no members had questions. Alice then opened the floor to the public. Questions included topics such as alternative governance structure, mention of unhappiness with current law by district around the state, request for outcomes and data, clarification on the formation of a MUDD, politics affecting State Board’s decisions to force a merger in the coming years.

Alice thanked Donna and Brad for travelling to southern Vermont to answer questions from the Study Committee and public.

Next meeting: 7/12/17 from 6-8 pm at a location TBD
Agenda topics include:

1. Request for Dummerston to provide feedback for suggestion(s) and data
2. Review of the pros/cons of Dummerston as necessary/advisable
3. Invite Chris Leopold for legal follow up
a. How to strengthen Leadership councils,
b. Warning article content
c. Town vote on school closure and grade movement.
4. Review school closure language.

Alice requested that Study Committee members consult with their local board and schedule time to review the draft report with Articles and provide feedback by end of July 2017. Alice opened the floor to public comment which included a request to wait because of loss of local control/no data, request on who to sent suggestions to on the Study Committee, questions about listing Dummerston as advisable – why not other towns as well.

On a motion made by Amy Wall, seconded by Kim Price and so voted, the work session adjourned at 8:04 pm.

All Study Committee meetings are recorded by BCTV. Consult the local channel program scheduled or go to the BCVT website to view proceeds.


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