Pratt said Stamford is in limbo, after rejecting a proposed union with Readsboro and Halifax, and failing to qualify for a designation as “geographically isolated” under a preliminary determination by the state board of education. The designation would have allowed the school to retain its small schools grant and other financial support without consolidating with another district.
In May, Stamford voters defeated a proposal to join with Readsboro and Halifax to create the Southern Valley Union School District in a 173-6 vote. At the time, board members were pursuing an interstate merger with the Northern Berkshire School Union in Massachusetts. Stamford, which lies on Vermont’s southern border, maintains close cultural and economic ties with the northern Berkshire towns.
At a meeting in May, Clarksburg, MA school board member Carl McKinney announced that the Massachusetts Legislature had allocated $25,000 to study the interstate district proposal. At the time, he indicated that Massachusetts state officials and the Northern Berkshire School Union were eager to pursue the idea.
Since then, however, the interstate concept has fallen to the wayside, Pratt told board members.
At the same May meeting, the town’s Act 46 consultant Steve Sanborn indicated that, if all else fails, the town could hold a second vote to join the Southern Valley Union School District before the November 30 deadline, provided that voters in Readsboro and Halifax ratified the vote.
But it may be unlikely to pass muster with voters in the two Southern Valley towns. Pratt noted that, under the Act 46 legislation, Stamford no longer qualifies for its small schools grant or the “hold harmless” provision of education funding that protects schools from precipitous drops in per-pupil funding, as well as Act 46 tax incentives. Adding Stamford to the Southern Valley district would likely increase costs for the existing members. Although the situation may change, depending on the state board of education’s final determination of geographic isolation, Pratt said Stamford appears to have few choices. “My meeting with Secretary Holcombe is to ask about their options,” he said. “But I think I know the answer is going to be that they don’t have any options – they decided not to be part of the side by side.”
Whitingham board member Seth Boyd said he hoped Pratt might also take time during his meeting with Secretary Holcombe to “diplomatically” convey the board’s opinion “how shortsighted it is for the governor and agency of education to blame school boards for the budget and tax rate in the state. As we lose more and more students in a state where the tax rate depends on the student population, it’s going to be more and more detrimental. The state ought to look at changing the education funding formula rather than telling boards to spend less and strip education from kids. The governor has done a good job of realizing how many students we’re losing every day, but don’t blame it on school boards.”
Pratt also told board members that teacher contract negotiations are currently stalled over health insurance issues, and school principals Rebecca Fillion, Tom Fitzgerald, and Leanne Monroe have formed an association for negotiating their contracts. Fitzgerald told board members the three administrators were seeking to standardize their contracts. “I don’t expect it to be adversarial, we’re just trying to get it all the same. Like, in my contract, benefits were lumped in with support staff. This is the only place I’ve been where administration didn’t have the same benefits as teachers. And some contracts had professional development money. But we’re not looking for a lot of money. We know things are tight.”
The board appointed John Doty and Therese Lounsbury as negotiators for the administrative contracts.