Communications Council for the Windham Southeast School District
NOTICE OF MEETING
The 2020-2021 Communications Council of the WSESD will meet remotely on
Friday, March 12, 2021 at 10:00 a.m. via Zoom:
Join Zoom Meeting
I. Call to Order
II. Recognition of Visitors
III. Leadership Council Development
IV. Unfinished Business
Communications Council for the Windham Southeast School District
February 4, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. via Zoom
I. Call to Order 1:07 – in attendance Robin Morgan, Michelle Greene, Jaime Contois, David Schoales. Ruby McAdoo joined as a member of the Communications Council.
II. Recognition of Visitors
III. Minutes Approval – January 20 and January 29, 2021 minutes approved
IV. Withdrawal Vote Discussion – Community Outreach and Information Planning
Michelle has been trying to capture what changes have happened in the buildings – some teachers have expressed feeling no change, some have said they have been more supported by WSESD than they were under the single town district. David mentioned that it’s nearly impossible to separate out casuality of changes in schools from administrator changes and COVID impacted changes. Are there any objective stats we can track about what has been changed; for instance professional development structures? Itinerant teachers now have one single employer instead of separate contracts with separate schools. The ability to assess financial impact is extremely limited. We do know that debts will follow the schools and there is a cost associated with the transfer of those debts. Upon approval to redistrict, a town is responsible for identifying candidates and electing a transitional board to represent their new district. A new budget must be created and a plan for financial restitution must be agreed upon by all communities. This would include:
transitional board election expenses
Election expenses of a new budget to be approved by the people
Tuition for students that reside in one’s town, but are attending schools in another district
This MAY include:
- Repayment of debts
- Contributions to bonds
- Capital plan investments made
- Facility improvement reimbursement
- Administrative expenses and fees associated with re-allocating funds and debts,
- transfer of property,
- reestablishing vendor accounts,
- renegotiating contracts
Ruby’s document is a great resource – can we streamline it to a 1 pager? What about school specific concerns? Anything created by this committee will be ratified by the board and then distributed to the LCs. Robin volunteered to combine the information in Ruby’s, Michelle’s, and David’s efforts into a one pager before the next meeting. Jaime will research how to access ballot or vote in each town.
Discussion about informational meetings. Each town is responsible for providing an informational meeting and the board is legally not allowed to do so. David suggested simply providing these documents in lieu of an info session.
The council agreed to try and have what we want to send out ready by next week.
V. Budget Vote Timeline and Planning
Jaime will create a press release about budget vote and info session
VI. Adjournment – 2:24
Communications Council of the Windham Southeast School District
February 10, 2021 at 1:00pm via Zoom
Call to order: 1:06 – in attendance Michelle, Ruby, David, Robin
Recognition of visitors: Kristina Naylor, Sean Murphy, Sarah Rosow, Tim Maciel, Frank Rucker,
Andrew Skarzynski, Kitsie Larock, Maggie Foley, Susan
Michelle asked Frank for information about possible financial impact of withdrawing from the district.
Transitional costs are not a significant factor – they are implemented over the first couple of years only. Statewide funding of $150K covered transitional costs for creating WSESD. $150K is probably a reasonable projection for the cost to transition back to single-town boards.
Putney Food Services – Act 153 required the SUs to coordinate food services across all member districts. 1.4m in costs to pay for contracts with food services. SU receives federal revenue to pay for food service. Each district (Vernon and WSESD) contributes. Putney has a separate contract from WSESD but the same financial structure applies.
Per pupil spending impacts: currently WSESD per pupil spending is $19,392 ($52m budget offset by $8.2m grants, divided by 2262.9 equalized pupils). Subtracting $696/student in debt repayment or eligible construction costs allows us to stay under the spending cap of $18,789, resulting in a tax rate of $1.703.
Dividing the towns back into separate district and assuming that BUHS#6 would resume as its own district, Brattleboro elementary school tax rate would increase to $1.82 – if BUHS were still its own district their tax rate would be $1.63 under this model, so the overall school tax rate for Brattleboro would be $1.758. All towns would see a slight increase in tax rate and Dummerston would have a substantial tax increase.
However Andy reported that if the Board of Ed dissolved WSESD, they would not be able to reform the BUHS#6 district, it would have to be voted into existence again by the towns if we wished to do that.
The meeting was disrupted by zoombombers and re-convened a few minutes later.
Unfortunately Frank’s document was corrupted and he was not able to deliver specific numbers for the rest of the towns.
Since Putney, Dummerston and Guilford don’t have secondary schools, they would have to pay tuition to an out-of-district school for grades 7-12 or 9-12. Districts can choose to designate up
to three specific schools that they will send tuition for but may not be able to convene as a newly formed board in time to make that rule before parents enroll their children for the next school year. So due to the fact that parents might choose private schools or other public schools, the tax rate for all towns, including Brattleboro might be substantially higher than reflected above.
If these towns wanted to reform a union high school district they would have to follow the state’s process which includes a study committee and a vote for all the towns whether they wanted to join.
Maggie Foley expressed that she was very concerned about the timing of this, that there has been no time for community forums for people to really understand the impact of this vote and the detriment it could cause to all schools and communities to withdraw from the district.
Fixed costs have continued to rise at a higher rate than the growth in student population and that is making it more expensive spending per pupil across all schools compared to the budgets that were last developed by the legacy district boards.
Robin asked if the numbers could be recalculated for separate districts without a union high school district. Frank said yes and clarified that if the board defines the scenario for this model (would it be calculated assuming all outlying town students would attend BUHS as they currently are doing? Or a breakdown of private and public schools in the region similar to what is done in Vernon currently?) then he will be able to take this into consideration with his formula. Any discussion of tuitioning is complicated by additional costs (transportation is an example). Frank specified that he can share methodology and insight, but does not want to be put into a position of determining what to estimate. He would be looking for direction from the board.
Frank shared that when you have a union high school that collaborates to create special education programs, it is a program that is designed for the students with IEP based on their needs and it is customized for the region. When you go to a tuition based model, each family makes their own determination about where to place their kids and the town paying tuition would not benefit from the customized program (which correlates to increased costs).
Robin asked for clarity on why the WSESD board cannot have a public forum. Andy shared the legal advice that the board has been given about not taking a position on the vote, but that did not in fact mean that the board could not have an info session. Robin proposed that the board consider holding one info session that will provide the detail necessary for people to make an informed vote — looking to the town or leadership councils for this issue seems unfair. Maggie shared her perspective that from witnessing discussion in the board meetings, she does not see the board as being neutral on this issue.
There was a general discussion about lack of transparency around how this vote came to be considered by the board — that the democratic process was subverted by the board having this question put on the ballots without petitions or demonstrated public support for that.
Ruby proposed that the WSESD board ask Central Office to hold an info session on the financial implication of withdrawal (within the parameters that Frank outlined above) — that info session could be facilitated by a third party.
Michelle said she is wondering if the WSESD board needs to have a special meeting to discuss this.
Meeting adjourned at 3pm
WSESD Communications Council Minutes
February 11, 2021
Meeting called to order at 1:03
In attendance Michelle Green, Robin Morgan, David Schoales, Ruby McAdoo, Jaime Contois
Recognition of Visitors: Andy Skarzynski, Beth Bristol, Frank Rucker, Deb Kardane, Shaun Murphy
Frank continued sharing data that was interrupted at the previous day’s meeting. Declining enrollment has been an issue over the past several years, particularly a steep drop just as the district was formed and Vernon left the union HS.
Historical tax rates for the legacy districts and the WSESD district show that this year’s projected rate, $1.703, is lower than any of the past 6 years, for any town.
If the districts were to separate, all towns’ tax rates would increase, some quite a bit, even before we consider the impact of dissolving the union high school. Dummerston’s elementary budget would be $2K over the per pupil spending cap, resulting in a tax rate of $2.11. Guilford’s elementary tax rate would go up to $1.82. Putney’s would go up to $1.90.
The numbers in Frank’s document that reflect a complete school tax rate and CLA-adjusted numbers are based on the assumption that BUHS would continue as a unified district, which it would not if any town withdrew. Robin cautioned everyone against using those numbers to communicate impacts of this vote because they are misleading and Frank and David agreed.
Jaime asked for clarification about why BUHS would not return to its own district and Andy shared the statue 16 VSA 827 that says that the state does not have the authority to re-form a union high school district when a district is dissolved. The statute says that the process would have to start over with a study committee and eventually a public vote.
Shaun also mentioned that Act 46 requires all districts to have at least 900 students and if Brattleboro left then the remaining towns would not have enough students to comprise a district.
Frank and Andy were unsure if that requirement still stands.
Beth Bristol asked if schools that withdraw would be obligated to repay remaining debts that they incurred before entering the unified district. Frank clarified that his numbers for projected solo districts do not reflect that cost burden of the debts that districts would take with them upon exiting the district.
Ruby asked if we can state that there will be a percentage of increase in tax rates? Frank responded that we can say with certainty that the merged tax rate is lower than it has been in at least seven years for the legacy districts. If we define the assumptions that informed these calculations we could express the projected increases at the elementary level as an “at least this percentage” format. If one of the outlying towns withdraws, the impact on the rest of the district would be minimal. If Brattleboro withdraws it would have a significant tax impact on the rest of the district if they were even allowed to continue operating as a single district.
Andy wants to make sure that people know the BUHS6 district will not be reformed if towns withdraw. Students will be tuitioned if they want to attend BUHS or the public or approved independent school of their choice.
Shaun wanted to make sure voters know this process is subject to approval by the Board of Ed.
Jaime asked about the impact of school choice on BUHS. Andy responded that it introduces a degree of volatility in enrollment and makes it more difficult to make long-term plans for staffing and curriculum planning.
Shaun shared that in his opinion the impact of school choice on a public school system is draconian.
Robin advocated for a school board meeting to discuss the impact of this vote and supported Ruby’s idea of discussing tax rate changes as a minimum percentage format. Frank again cautioned that the assumptions that informed those calculations should be made clear.
Michelle shared that Dummerston’s school newsletter included an article from a school board member endorsing a vote to withdraw. Michelle was extremely dismayed that a board member represented their own personal subjective opinion as an endorsement of the board.
David shared that the council’s duty is to provide a recommendation to the board and if that includes recommending a public meeting then the board will consider that at next Tuesday’s meeting.
Jaime shared that she has two press release documents ready to send out letting voters know when and where and how to vote for the town meeting day votes and the budget vote. She will send them to Barb, David and Andy for review and then to publications as soon as they get the dates of any town informational meetings.
The council voted to approve minutes of the 2/10 meeting.
The council spent the rest of the meeting time making edits to informational documents for distribution upon board approval next Tuesday.
The meeting adjourned at ????