School choice change faces next step April 12

Draft budget shows hike
Posted:  Wednesday, April 11, 2018 - 10:15am
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Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit 12’s board on April 12 takes its first read of the change Alna wants to make to school choice.

To get the proposal to a required district-wide vote, the question needs super majority, or two thirds, votes on the board's first and second readings, according to a meeting packet Superintendent of Schools Howie Tuttle released Sunday. The packet includes a primer for the board, on amending the district's reorganization plan Alna’s school choice is part of.

As proposed, Alna's publicly funded K-8 private school choice would not be an option for children who become Alna residents after this June 30. Alna's Ralph Hilton petitioned for the local question residents passed, 258-161, March 23. He planned to be at Thursday's meeting but has not been going around the district discussing the proposal as he did throughout Alna.

"It's in the hands of the board now," Hilton said in a phone interview Sunday. He will be back on the board this summer. Residents voted him in the same day they passed his proposal. He was making no predictions Sunday on how the board will decide. He noted it will all play out before his term starts.

Board Chairman Jerry Nault, interviewed Friday, called a super majority a very high bar. The board will consider whether or not the  question was presented the right way, he said. 

According to Nault and the primer, the votes to move forward with the question would have to be super majorities of the full board. “Since only attending board members are able to cast their votes, the effect of an absent member is a vote in the negative ...,” the primer states.

Towns’ votes on the board are weighted; approval would take at least 7,404 of the  11,106 weighted votes board-wide, according to the primer. Amending the reorganization plan would then take a majority vote at the polls district-wide.

Alna’s Jon Villeneuve said Wednesday morning, he and a number of others from Alna for Choice in Education will likely attend Thursday’s meeting. “We’re hopeful  and confident that the board will study the issue,” he said. The group has sought to keep full school choice intact. He said several questions remain on the amendment’s financial and other impacts and, when considering changing policy, the district needs to do it responsibly, he added.

The board meets at 6:30 p.m. at Chelsea Elementary School. Also on tap is the signing of the budget warrant. Tuttle’s superintendent’s report lists a proposed draft budget of $22.2 million, up 3.54 percent from this year. Tuttle cites four factors: an enrollment hike higher than the state is using to set the subsidy, since the state uses a two-year average; local funding of pre-K; adding another nurse and another social worker; and a state mil rate hike from 8.19 to 8.51.

“This will cause a significant change in the amount local communities are required to raise ... to receive the $8,497,296.95 in state subsidy,” Tuttle writes.

The budget referendum meeting is at 6:30 p.m. May 17 at Chelsea Elementary. The vote at the polls is June 12.