Greetings, Brattleboro! My name is Jill Stahl Tyler, and while I am the chair of the Brattleboro Town School Board, I send this information out personally. It’s a broad update on the status of our budget/Act 46/delays in moving forward.
Our Brattleboro Town School Board has always tried to “prepare for every eventuality” while going through almost four years of Act 46 discussion. In the hopes that you will feel more informed about the process, I have gathered this information. Feel free to share widely!
Following the legal advice from our counsel, the Brattleboro Town School Board voted not to present a budget to the Brattleboro Town Meeting representatives. However, we have prepared a budget for the transitional board to consider. We also agreed to publish that budget in the informational book, prepared for Town Meeting representatives. When you look at the numbers, please know that the State of Vermont only provided “equalized student numbers” to us as a merged entity (Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford and Putney, pre-K through high school). However, this is only the Brattleboro portion of the budget. The Brattleboro Town School Board will again discuss the budget presentation options with our legal counsel, at our next meeting on March 6th.
INFORMATION NIGHT MEETING
Again, following legal advice from our counsel, the Brattleboro Town School Board has not called for an information night. (This would normally be scheduled for the Wednesday immediately prior to the town meeting, which would be on Wednesday, March 20th.) Should the board determine that we need to now present a budget, we may also decide to hold an informational meeting. If that’s the case, I will email again, after our meeting on Wednesday, March 6th.
STATUS OF TRANSITIONAL BOARD and MERGED BOARD
On February 27th, the first transitional board meeting was scheduled. Before the transitional board was officially sworn in, Andy Davis made a motion to immediately cease the transitional board meeting, and postpone any further meetings until April 2nd. This halts the creation of a new legal, merged entity; transitional board being seated; new merged board petitions being taken out; new merged board elections occurring; new merged budget being developed; new accounting systems being set in place for the merged entity; the legal transfer of any land; etc. The motion passed, and so the transitional board will not meet again until April 2nd.
CONCERNS ABOUT THE DELAY
Andy Davis’ motion was a surprise to many, including those directly tasked with implementing the merger and dealing with any further delays in complying with the law. After verifying with Superintendent Lyle Holiday and Business Manager Frank Rucker, here is a list of concerns of what this delay may mean for our students (and us as taxpayers):
- It takes significant time to register the new, merged district into the government systems as a new entity. The delays could make it harder (or impossible) to receive the Title One funds. The Brattleboro Town School Board can’t receive those Title One funds, due to regulations by the Agency of Education. This money typically has been used to pay for summer options. These summer programs are used mainly by our most vulnerable students, those who need the most support.
2. This significantly delays the process to have an approved budget in place by July 1st.
3 .If there is no budget in place when the merged entity starts on July 1st, there is no law that explains how to proceed without a budget. Title 16, Section 566 is the law that states we can borrow up to 87% to operate the school as of July 1st. This is a way to move forward while preparing a budget. But the law does not apply to the new entity. We have no previous year’s budget. It would require an amendment to the current laws to move through the house and senate, and must also be approved by the governor.
4. The uncertainty about budgets may cause staff to seek other employment.
5. Without an approved budget, principals and town school boards could have problems in hiring for positions, new positions in particular. (Specifically to Brattleboro Town School District, Academy School has a new academic support position in this year’s budget.)
6. The delay slows and complicates the task of moving all the HR pieces to the new entity. This is a massive undertaking, considering that most of the supervisory union’s 700 employees will need a new contract, new health insurance plan, new identification number, etc. A new accounting system also needs to be created.
STATUS OF ACT 46
On November 30, 2018, the towns of Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford and Putney were officially merged by the State Board of Education. According to the legal counsel’s information to our board, the merger will ONLY stop IF:
- A judge declares that part or all of Act 46 is illegal. There are currently three lawsuits being reviewed by Judge Mello in St. Albans. Dummerston, a member town in our merged district, is party to one of them. The lawsuit was filed around December 20, 2018. (There are many articles; here’s one in case it is helpful: https://www.rutlandherald.com/news/local/judge-makes-preliminary-rulings-in-act-lawsuits/article_32da1ed2-758a-5978-873d-07e9f58d1375.html)
2. A judge declares that there should be a “stay” or “injunction” of the merger process, while he reviews the lawsuit. An initial ruling was widely expected on February 15, 2019, but Judge Mello refused to issue anything, including any sort of indication on how he would eventually rule. (Again, there are many articles; in case it is helpful, here’s a link to one: https://vtdigger.org/2019/02/17/judge-hears-arguments-act-46-delay/
3. A new law supersedes current Act 46. (Bills in House Committee on Education https://legislature.vermont.gov/committee/detail/2020/10#bills-in-out and Bills in Senate https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/all-senate/2020 )
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns that you might have. I will do my best to find answers for them. email@example.com
A few thoughts
“Andy Davis’ motion was a surprise to many”
But it passed… and therefore was a decision of the body. I question this merger personally, so I applaud the decision of the body.
Let’s look at concerns:
1 “…The delays could make it harder (or impossible) to receive the Title One funds. …”
That would be a problem in the short term. Of course, one might expect that with 4 years of planning, this outcome would have been foreseen, especially when there has been so much controversy, objections, votes, and lawsuits. I’m not being flippant but is there some way to move funds around this year, given that budgets are a bit weird this year? Can we rob Peter to pay Paul for a year? Or are we looking at a big need for wealthy people to pony up some donations for summer programs?
2. “This significantly delays the process to have an approved budget in place by July 1st.”
Well, if the budget isn’t yet approved or set, I would think money could be shuffled about before the budget is approved, to pay for summer programs. This will be at the temporary expense of something else.
A delay isn’t always bad. It might be a rough few months of hard work to get the budget done in time.
3. …” there is no law that explains how to proceed without a budget.”
Yikes! Someone forgot something.
Of course, this assumes a merged entity, which seems to be somewhat in question. Perhaps NOT merging this year would allow for summer programs to be paid for and budget to go forward. Maybe the answer is simply changing that July 1 deadline. We’re humans. It can be flexible, right? This is a big thing.
4. “The uncertainty about budgets may cause staff to seek other employment.”
True. Other things might make them seek other employment, too. I’d bet most people would stick with things as long as they are kept fully informed, and would only bail if things got very bad. I’m not too worried about this concern. Again, this is a short-term problem, methinks.
5. ” …principals and town school boards could have problems in hiring for positions…”
Probably. It’s a short-term problem, though, compared to that of a more long-term merged district.
6. “The delay slows and complicates the task of moving all the HR pieces to the new entity”
I don’t see how this is much of a problem, or much of a delay. Again, a merger is “forever” so whatever time it takes to set things up, or reconsider and try an alternative, seems worth it.
I do appreciate the difficulty in trying to make the merger happen. It was never something local people demanded, and there is much resistance, and there are fair and good objections. There are lawsuits, votes not to merge, and new laws proposed. If a merger happens, it will not come easily. (I suppose even if everyone wanted it to happen, it would still be an onerous task.)
If there is no budget in place by July 1, would that mean there are no school taxes until it is worked out? Is there any possibility there won’t be school in September?
Title 1 funds
This is not an argument for or against delay but just some information about them- they fund a variety of programs and services in the schools that receive them – this is based on the number of low income children served by the district. In FY18 that number was $732,540 for the 3 Brattleboro Town elementary schools, and $855,100 in the approved budget for FY19. BUHS and BAMS as well as some of the other five towns in the SU do get Title 1 funds. That is a significant about of money to just shuffle around in the short term. The loss of the funds would impact more than summer programs but all Title staff positions.
One would hope that with the fluid situation there would only be a delay for the funds, not a loss of the funding all together. It would mean that the districts could borrow in anticipation of future payment .
Good to know how much we’re talking about. That is a pretty big chunk to shuffle. : )
Of course, all this wouldn't have been necessary . . .
…if our State government hadn’t had too much time on their hands, resulting in Act 46, a classic example of something which, luckily, Vermonters have traditionally been too intelligent to create or allow to persist. That something, a bit of an old-fashioned term nowadays, is a BOONDOGGLE. Here’s a handy Wikipedia definition:
“A boondoggle is a project that is considered a waste of both time and money, yet is often continued due to extraneous policy or political motivations.”
We need more citizens, like Andy Davis, to stand up and make those pesky motions at meetings, to question our government when it goes off the rails.