Barnard School Board chair says “Sayonara”
By Curt Peterson
On July 1, when Barnard Academy becomes part of Windsor Central Unified Union School District, the Barnard Academy School Board will cease to exist. Barnard voters approved the merger into WCUUSD, a group of seven sending districts including Killington, Plymouth, Pomfret, Bridgewater, Woodstock, Reading, and now Barnard.
The marriage was not an easy romance for either side.
Barnard had hoped they could qualify for “independent status,” avoiding merger mandated by Act 46, and rejected the merger at the ballot box in 2017. Then, an Act 46 study committee, led by Carin Park and Pamela Fraser, couldn’t come to agreement on some WCUUSD articles of agreement, including board representation – assigned by population, Woodstock would have six and the other, smaller towns each would have two.
Another objection was arbitrary terminology related to school closure – they felt there was a lack of clear criteria, and that local towns could lose their schools at the whim of the district board. This was changed with a compromised reached.
Class configuration decisions were also a question – a kindergarten through sixth grade elementary school might ultimately host only three grades, with other local students bussed to a distant campus.
At heart, though, was the feeling that being an actual town means having an actual school, in the traditional sense. Like most small Vermont towns, Barnard is losing young parents and children.
“What young family would want to move to Barnard with their children if there isn’t a school here for them to go to?” Barnard selectman Tim Johnson asked at a public informational meeting.
A countering argument is the obvious disadvantage of having a pre-K-6 elementary school with just 65 students.
According to Debra Russo-Savage at the Agency of Education, the primary goal of consolidation is to improve educational opportunities. Combining and sharing resources and trained instructors among multiple town campuses, she said, will provide better opportunities without raising costs.
Pamela Fraser served as one of two Barnard representatives for middle/high school matters on the district board. She was able to represent WCUUSD first-hand to her neighbors.
Fraser and Park had appeared before the AOE merger panel to make a case for independence, based on remoteness, and because the stated goals of ACT 46 were already achieved at their school – consolidation would not improve educational opportunities by ACT 46 measures, they said.
For two years relations between Barnard and the WCUUSD board were cordial to a greater extent than one might expect. The district would benefit from adding Barnard students in the cost/pupil formula that determines budget limitations, and Barnard’s campus and pre-kindergarten model are desirable.
Barnard lost the battle for AOE blessing as an independent district, and, in acts of good will, WCUUSD board members did not force them to merge, which they could have done; rather, they let Barnard voters agree to join voluntarily.
While there would be no change in board representation, school closure and class configuration criteria were clarified.
Barnard is not empty-handed as it joins the board – Park reports in her last school board newsletter that she and Pamela Fraser uncovered separate errors in AoE Education Fund calculations.
As a result of their work, Barnard will receive $48,081.57 to correct an equalized pupil counting error, and WCUUSD will receive $276,085.41 correcting an incorrect FY19 spending penalty, Park said.
She wasn’t certain how the funds would come to Barnard taxpayers or to WCUUSD. District Finance and Operations Director Mike Concessi, however, responded by email to clarify: “My belief is that the $276K Funds will be coming from the State of VT Agency of Education (AOE) sometime before year end… As far as the allocation, the funds will most likely be used to replenish the unrestricted funds which were significantly drained from the FY19 revenue budget to actual shortfall.”
It might be a touch of irony that the newly-elected chair of the WCUUSD board is Bryce Sammel, who served on the district board through the independence struggle with Pamela Fraser as vice-chair.
In her heartfelt listserve “sayonara” addressed to “Barnard Residents,” Park said, “I am encouraged and inspired by the spirit of respect and deep care exhibited by this community even as we have grappled with diverse values and opinions in an environment where much is uncertain. The Barnard community has shown itself once again to be resilient, adaptive, and strong-hearted. I feel honored and privileged to have served the community during this time.”