By Mason Wade
I’ll vote no on November 28 on the idea that Stockbridge and Rochester should merge their elementary schools. Why? No. 1 reason: Each town loses independent legal control of the future of their education. In my opinion, since the supervisory union got involved in local education 30 years ago, we have seen a decline in the quality of education and erosion of local control, along with super-fast increase in the cost to the local taxpayer.
The present plan projects a cost of $21,000-plus per student. Not long ago, our school budget was in the hundreds of thousands and then it hit a million; now it’s around $3.2 million. In the past few years, our Rochester public trust fund has supplemented funds to “float” our school. Not many taxpayers understand that fully a third of the school budget is for the supervisory union administrators, not actual student education.
In my opinion, the supervisory union kicked Rochester voters in the teeth by aiding the school board, with their supervisory union lawyer, in an unlawful executive session on February 16 when the board rejected a petition for the 2017 annual town/school meeting. This was a petition to have an article placed on the agenda for discussion by voters at the annual meeting. The school board prevented it from even going to the voters, to be discussed, modified and decided upon by the voters, according to Roberts Rules of Order.
On October 13, a special school board meeting was held to deal with a complaint of a violation of the Open Meeting Law, which I filed at the suggestion of the Vermont attorney general’s office. The special school board meeting was called with only 24 hours’ notice, which I did not see. I was not given a personal response to my letter or a phone call or even a knock on my door to inform me that this special meeting was being held in order to respond to my complaint. The result of the October 13 special school board meeting was a case of the fox watching the henhouse – just read the minutes. Since our select board wouldn’t save the henhouse, even after their admission, in the approved minutes of their June 12 meeting, that “... it may not have been properly warned ...,”after the chair consulted with the Vermont secretary of state’s office, maybe it is time for the voters to petition our elected justices of the peace – Becky Klein, Mike Harvey, Java Hubbard, Kevin Dougherty and Annette West – to settle the dispute and present an opinion, as was their historical function.
In my opinion, an independent academy of world-class quality is an option to the school merger direction. Yes, it may cost us more to get started, but we win in the long run, with new growth and retention of a healthy local democracy.
From all these “school union shenanigans,” I am convinced that all public meetings need to be webcammed, broadcast on the internet and recorded in town records for an agreed-upon amount of time, as soon as possible.
Here is the petition that the school board rejected in executive session.
Excerpt from the February 16 school board meeting:
“We, the Voters of Rochester, Vermont, want our middle school and high school young people to have the right for school choice. This would require ASAP closing the middle and high school and transferring all properties and liabilities back to Rochester town control.” The petition was signed by at least 5 percent of the Rochester voters and submitted before the deadline, as required by law.
Here is an excerpt from the minutes of that February 16 meeting:
“Consideration of petition submitted to the school board: Tony [Goupee] made motion to enter executive session at 6:52 p.m. to discuss petition with counsel, seconded by Frank [Russell]. Exited at 7:12 p.m. Frank made the following motion: I move that the Board declines to include on the warning for the Board’s annual meeting the Article proposed by the Petition regarding the tuitioning of students, closing of high school and transfer of high school property to the town as it combines three statutory actions and fails to notify all interested voters of the subject matter with reasonable certainty of the proposed action. Amy Wildt seconded the motion. No discussion. All in favor, so voted.”
Excerpt from the June 12 select board meeting:
“Mason Wade asked Doon to inform everyone about his conversation with the Vermont Secretary of State regarding the petition that Mason had prepared for the Annual School Meeting warning. Doon explained that according to the secretary of state, executive sessions need to have a reason stated. When the petition was presented to the School Board, they entered executive session with the Supervisory Union attorney, and exited stating that the petition would not be included on the warning due to it being vague. It may not have been properly warned as executive session at that meeting, and possibly should have been addressed in open session. The warning for this meeting was prepared prior to the final due date for petitions as well.”
Excerpt from the October 13 special school board meeting:
“Amy made the motion that the board find no violation of the Open Meeting Law occurred on February 23, 2017, and that no cure is necessary. Motion seconded by Tony Goupee. Discussion: The statement that Tony Goupee read at the 2/23 meeting was reread: ‘I move that the Board enters executive session in order to receive legal advice whose premature public knowledge would place the Board at a substantial disadvantage.’ Jeff noted that the minutes were adjusted to have the executive session after item 3 of the 2/23 meeting. No further discussion, voted in the affirmative. Motion passes. As chair of the Rochester School Board on behalf of the board, the Board’s public response to the complaint filed is that that the board having felt that no violation occurred, no cure is needed. This board considers the matter closed.”
Wade lives in Rochester.