Letter
July 20, 2017

Rochester voter challenges conduct of school board

Dear Editor,

Rochester voters – Here are the facts:

Early February 2017

Fact 1: The filing at Rochester Town Clerk’s office of a Petition for Article for the 2017 Rochester Annual Town School Meeting. The petition was filed within the Vermont state deadline with the required number of Rochester voter signatures.

Fact 2: The text of the Petition of Article reads, “We the undersigned legal voters of the Town of Rochester, Vermont, USA, hereby petition the school board of the Town of Rochester, Vermont, to place the following Article on the Annual Town School Meeting to be held on the 27th day of March 2017. We certify that we are presently voters of Rochester, Vermont. The Article to be placed on the warning to read: We, the Voters of Rochester, Vermont, want our middle 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.”

Fact 3: The Article if approved to be warned by a public school meeting after State required public notice would be on the Agenda for the 2017 Rochester Town School meeting. First to be read; second to be discussed; third to be modified; and fourth to be voted on using Robert’s Rules of Order.

Fact 4: The Rochester School Board approved the 2017 Annual Town School Meeting warning on January 27, 2017 – prior to the Secretary of State’s deadline for Petitions of Articles.

Fact 5: The Rochester School Board did not meet the Secretary of State’s requirement to inform voters of the Petition of Article, necessary so that all voters can be informed and involved in this Petition which would be approved or rejected by a public meeting of the regularly scheduled school board meeting.

Fact 6: At the Feb. 16 public school board meeting, the Board did not follow the Secretary of State’s requirement to give one of the limited allowable reasons for entering Executive Session (a private meeting without public involvement) set forth in 1 V.S.A. Section 313. The school board went into the Executive Session at 6:52 p.m., along with a contracted supervisory union attorney, and returned to the public meeting at 7:12 p.m., only 20 minutes after. The following is a record of what happened in the executive session:

“Consideration of petition submitted to the school board: Tony [Goupee] made motion to enter Executive Session at 6:52 pm to discuss petition with counsel, seconded by Frank [Russell]. Exited at 7:12 pm. 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 Petition regarding 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.”

*Just to be clear – It’s not the Board’s annual meeting, it’s the 2017 Annual Town school meeting.

Fact 7: Upon returning from Executive Session of only 20 minutes at 7:12 p.m., the Chair of the School Board announced to the public meeting that the Board voted unanimously against the Petition of Article being on the warning of the 2017 Annual Town School Meeting. The reason given to the public by the Chair of the Board: “…that it was vague.”

Mid-April

Fact 8: At a Rochester Select Board meeting discussion of the School Board’s action during Executive Session concerning the Petition of Article, voter Mason Wade brought to their attention that their action may not have been in accordance with the Secretary of State’s requirements.

Early May

Fact 9: At a Town Select Board meeting, Mason Wade requested that the Select Board, who represent the voters of the Town of Rochester, consult with the Vermont Secretary of State’s office about the School Board’s handling of the Town’s Petition of Article.

Late May

Fact 10: At the next Select Board meeting, the Select Board decided to have the Board Chair talk with the Vermont Secretary of State’s office about the issue of the School Board going into Executive Session without stating the allowable legal reason for doing so, as required by 1 V.S.A. Section 313.

Fact 11: From the approved minutes of the June 12 Select Board meeting:

“Mason Wade asked the Chair to inform everyone about his conversation with the Secretary of State regarding the Petition of Article prepared for the 2017 Annual Town School Meeting warning. Chair explained that according to the Secretary of State rules, 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 (italics added). It may not have been proper to take this to Executive Session at that meeting, and should have been addressed in OPEN SESSION (caps added).

Fact 12: The official Rochester Town newspaper, The Herald of Randolph, reported minimal investigative information regarding this critical matter to its readers and the voters of Rochester.

Now what?

Celebrate local democracy by being an informed voter.

Call your elected officials and share your concerns for local democracy.

It’s time for all public meetings to be recorded by Web-cam so all voters can review.

Mason Wade, Rochester

Alice Peck Banner

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