School Merger Vote Nov. 21

Just when you thought it was safe to talk about something OTHER than the Pawlet/Rupert School Merger Plan- Nope!!!

The vote on the proposed merger will take place on Tuesday, November 21st – polls will be open from 10 AM to 7 PM. Please note that the poll times are different than usual. 

Not going to be in town on November 21st? ABSENTEE BALLOTS ARE IN people! Go get yours at the Pawlet Town Hall.

As you can see from the sample ballot above, it’s a big, long description to vote on one essential question: whether or not the merger will proceed. In this incarnation of the merger plan, no high schools are designated. Also being chosen are FOUR representatives from Pawlet to be directors of this new, potential, merged school board.

(Please note this is a correction- before I mistakenly said it was three representatives from Pawlet.)

Confused? Have questions? Just can’t get enough of talking about the proposed merger? Come to the informational meeting Tuesday November 14th at 7PM, Mettawee Community School.

Merger Proposal Reconfigured

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When last I posted about the ongoing school merger debate, it was nearly a year ago, but of course the debate, and the merger process, has continued.

To sum up: Last November in a non-binding referendum, both Pawlet and Rupert voted in favor of keeping designated schools in New York for grades 7-12. As a result, Wells, the third town of the proposed merger whose representatives favored school choice, went elsewhere to find merger buddies. Pawlet and Rupert then formed a new merger committee, and two weeks ago some members of that new committee made a merger proposal to the Vermont Board of Education, (you can watch the video below)

, our proposal comes up at 4:09) The state turned this proposal down, largely on the basis that they found the new proposal did not provide “equity,” a founding principle of Act 46, which essentially means that all children are to be given reasonable access to equivalent school programs.

Which brings us to last night’s meeting. It was standing room only in the Mettawee Community School library as the merger committee met and exchanged views on what had happened at the state and debated how to move forward. So what happened?

Here is the upshot: the committee voted four to three in favor of resubmitting the merger proposal with changes that remove designation from the plan.

In the absence of designated schools, the new merger of Pawlet and Rupert that is being proposed would by default entail school choice, with every student able to use up to the Vermont union state average annual tuition (currently $15,480).

A new merged school board could attempt to return to designation at some later date, but any attempt to designate the Granville and Salem schools in New York would be contingent on two things: an approval from town voters, and the state of Vermont changing the existing law.

If you’ve got all that then here’s what happens next: (Note- Update!! Some dates changed from the original posting )

October 18th- members of the merger committee will present this new plan to the Vermont Board of Education

November 14th- tentative date, public forum/informational meeting, time & location TBA. Also an informational mailing is planned.

November 21st- if the state approves the new merger proposal, this is the tentative date for Pawlet and Rupert residents to vote on the proposed merger.

That’s really what you need to know. A video of the merger meeting was made last night, so if someone sends me the link I will post it here.

A few snapshots from the evening:

“The democratic process was completely perverted… I’m coming out of this quite sad.”

—John Malcolm, committee member, (Referring to the state rejection of the previous plan)

 

“I just want folks to understand that if we don’t have a successful merger, we all lose.”

—Scott McChesney, committee member, (Pointing out that, if either town were to vote the new proposed merger down, both towns would lose associated tax incentives, and could end up designated to a Vermont school such as Poultney, not have the ability to attend Granville or Salem, and still have to pay the Vermont state average.)

 

“I support getting the merger done. If there’s still interest in designation, the new board could do it… (but) you’d have to deal with 827 (the existing law) too.”

—Jackie Wilson, BRSU Superintendant

 

“I don’t think the voters support it… (but) I’m for democracy. People are free to lobby… they have a right to do it.”

—Bill Meyer, committee member

 

“I would vote for a merger, and let the townspeople decide… talking about democracy, then we’re being democratic.”

—Gene Ceglowski, committee member

 

We just have to move forward… our charge is to make sure people understand the options.”

—Diane Mach, committee member

 

(Under the new merger proposal) we can have Granville and Salem and all these schools.” 

—Michael Krauss, resident

 

(This merger) could be possibly the only way you get to choose Granville.”

—Heather Lund, resident

 

I feel strongly that we need to tone down the rhetoric… This town is going to remain divided if people don’t begin to talk civilly to each other.”

Arlene Bentley, resident

 

It is not political, it is constitutional… Everyone in the state gets the state average tuition except our two towns.

—Jim Cole, resident

 

“I think perhaps the hostility would come down if we had more facts.”

—Christina Cosgrove, resident

 

It would be so helpful to know the net tax impact (of the proposed merger).”

—David Nichols, resident

 

“It’s got to be put out to the public as simple as possible.”

—Regina Mason, resident. (on the confusing nature of past informational materials)

Schaub Solo Exhibition Vermont Governor’s Gallery

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Schaub Vermont Governor's GalleryFrom Far Away
Solo Exhibition Vermont Governors Gallery

I am very excited to announce that I have been selected by the Vermont Governors Gallery for a solo exhibition at the State Capitol form January 4 – March 31st, 2017.

The show title is “From Far Away” and represents selected works from 2004 till present. There will be an opening reception on January 12th from 4-7PM, (please note a photo ID is required to enter the gallery.) Click on the link below to read the full press release!

http://stephenschaub.com/…/Schaub_VTGovGalleryShowPR2017.pdf

The Most Important Thing

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On Tuesday, Pawlet and Rupert both voted to maintain designation to New York State high schools, and to reject school choice.

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-10-37-33-amThis is going to sound weird, but as disappointed as I am about the results of the vote, I’m really proud of Pawlet and Rupert. Both town clerks reported an unheard of turnout for our two small towns.

You could say, “But they were coming to vote for president anyway!” and that’s true. But Election Day wasn’t the only time people have showed up on this issue. Since way back in July, when I started covering the (now-dissolved) Pawlet/Rupert/Wells Merger Committee and pimg_4643osting blogs about their progress I’ve watched the Act 46-related public meetings grow from audiences of one or two people, to well over a hundred. And these were not just ordinary meetings; these were long, three-plus-hour meetings, standing-room-only meetings, emotional and rancorous at times. Not just adults, but kids showed up and bravely made public statements on both sides of the issue. Heckimg_4642, kids from other towns were showing up, just to hear our version of the debate, to see what our town was going to do.

I think we’ve all come to know way, way more about educational law in Vermont than any one of us probably thought we would ever need to know.

So now, at long last, we have actual numbers as to the will of the townspeople. Although it wasn’t a landslide, it wasn’t exactly razor-close either: in Pawlet 413 voted for designation, 306 voted against. In Rupert, it was a similar margin: 235 in favor, 145 against.

img_4641 Clearly, the majority of people in our towns feel that school choice is a luxury we simply can’t afford. They believe it despite all the arguments that have been made to the contrary: even if designation means exploiting a loophole of New York State law, even if it means we have no say in how the educational system is run, and even if that means our Vermont kids can’t freely go to a Vermont school… public or private.

For a long time I thought that opponents of school choice in our area just must not have all the information. And so I made it my business to help get more information out there. And guess what? I was wrong. We still disagree.

So that, as they say, is that.

img_4681Who knows what will happen next? Nobody. Maybe another merger committee will be attempted, but I doubt it, since we’re surrounded on all sides by communities who have opted for school choice. Maybe we’ll just keep going along with things as they are, unchanged, until the day that someone comes along and tells us we can’t anymore. If that ever happens.

But my biggest hope now is for our community to heal. The school issue has been so divisive along so many lines, that at times it has felt like Act 46 was tearing our town limb from limb… pitting young versus old, “born-here”s versus newbies, those who are struggling to make ends meet versus those who are not. I think the key to moving forward is rooted in being proud of the fact that we all participated, and not just a little, but a lot.

I mean, did you see all those signs out there on Election Day? If you were in our area you could hardly have missed them. Printed ones, hand-lettered ones, sheets, banners… they were everywhere.

“Yes”!

“No”!

YES“!!!

NO“!!!

Outsiders driving through must’ve thought the entire town was having a schizophrenic seizure or something. I kind of loved it. It was evidence of a thriving democracy, in which each person really does feel like their opinion matters. And in our town, it really does.

img_4644No matter what, you can’t say we suffer from apathy around here. I’m glad that we are a community who doesn’t leave our important decisions- no matter how painful they may be to make- up to someone else. We can all be proud that on last Tuesday we did the most important thing of all: we showed up.