By Curt Peterson
BARNARD—The Agency of Education published its long-awaited draft of “Default Articles of Agreement,” the adoption of which will be considered by the state Board of Education on or before Nov. 30.
The Default Articles, required by ACT 49, will apply to any consolidated school district formations forced by the board under ACT 46. They will not supersede any Articles of Agreement already approved by voters and in effect.
The Barnard school district is waiting to hear whether the board of education will force it to join the Windsor Central Modified Unified Union School District in a decision also required by Nov. 30. Since the WCMUUSD has been operating under voter-approved articles of agreement since June 30, the default articles will not apply unless adopted in part or in total by the district board.
It was the current articles of agreement to which voters objected when they rejected a proposed merger with WCMUUSD at their 2017 town/school meeting.
Specifically, Barnard School Board members say, voters objected to the terms under which their school might be closed by the merged board. Representation on the board by each town—Woodstock has six votes and each of the five smaller towns—Barnard, grades 7-12, Bridgewater, Killington, Pittsfield, Pomfret, Plymouth and Reading – have only two – threatened reconfiguration of grades that might mean transporting younger students to other towns’ schools, and risks involved with the transfer of their school building to the merged district as required.
Prior to publication of the actual AoE suggested draft, Barnard School Board members had gleaned from available information that the default articles would be more in line with what they would like to see.
At the July 31 WCMUUSD Board meeting, Barnard representative Pamela Fraser asked other members to consider renegotiating the existing articles of agreement to address some or all of Barnard voters’ concerns. There was some resistance, but the board agreed to put the matter on the December 16 meeting agenda, which would be after the Nov. 30 Board of Education final decision regarding whether Barnard will be forced to join the group for grades one through six.
Grades 7 through 12 Barnard students are part of the consolidated district already.
Fraser cited the as-yet unpublished AoE draft articles in her plea, saying they were expected to give local towns more voice in grade reconfiguration, school closures, debt assumption and to provide equal board representation for member towns.
Fraser’s expectations are materialized in the draft. Authority to reconfigure grades is curtailed, but only until 2020. Closure of a school will require consent of a town’s electorate, but only through 2020. A newly-formed consolidated board will have equal representation —two votes for each town regardless of population.
On the subject of debt and conditions for return to a town of a closed school, the draft is nothing short of confusing. The consolidated district will have to offer the school back to the town for one dollar, but it comes with “assumption of debt.” It isn’t clear whether it is original debt that is attached to the building, or a portion of the consolidated district’s debt? Multiple readings fail to make it clear.
“Barnard feels that the Draft Default Articles are a tacit acknowledgment by the State that the three articles Barnard argued for with the unified district are legitimate and fair, and would offer equal protections that the current Windsor Central articles do not,” Fraser wrote in an email to the Mountain Times. “The AoE’s ‘summary of concerns’ makes this especially clear, as it lists (Barnard’s) very concerns.”
Fraser said the Barnard School Board is focusing on seeking approval of its alternative governing structure proposal, which would allow them to remain independent, but they are getting advice from legal counsel regarding its options if the board is ordered to merge with WCMUUSD.