By Don Keelan
The chairperson of the Vermont State Board of Education, Ms. Krista Huling, of Jeffersonville, Vermont, must be intelligent and well-grounded when it comes to education. Otherwise, why would she be chair of the State Board of Education?
Based on what took place at a board meeting in Barre on Nov. 15, however, Huling is not well-grounded in what it means to be respectful, civil, ethical and a leader. Several elected representatives of the Arlington School District and Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union (BVSU) can also attest to the above.
By way of background, the representatives from Arlington went to Barre (a two-hour trip) to make a simple request: Will the BOE grant BVSU six months to work with their counterparts from Bennington (Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union) and Manchester area (Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union), along with a representative from the Agency of Education, regarding where the BVSU should affiliate?
The representatives from Arlington were told that they had four minutes to make their case, which would be impacting over 440 students, hundreds of families, and taxpayers. It didn’t matter if the local school board members had four minutes or four hours — the State Board of Education had made up its mind before the meeting. The board chair and the secretary of education did not want Arlington to delay any further — the BVSU is to go to Bennington’s supervisory union.
There never had been any delay by Arlington. The supervisory union had been told by the interim secretary of education that Arlington, along with nine other small unions, would not have to merge. Meanwhile, Arlington was working on supervisory union issues with the BRSU — buses, special education and other matters with the intention that, at some time in the future, Arlington would be absorbed into Manchester’s supervisory union
This had no bearing with a board member from Londonderry, Oliver Olsen. Two weeks prior to the Nov. 15 meeting, he raised the question, “At its next meeting can the secretary draw up the necessary documents for a vote by the board to have Arlington join the SVSU?”
And herein lies the rub: Olsen, along with another board member and the secretary of education, should have recused themselves. They have been and continue to be deeply involved in the Manchester area supervisory union and anything that might impact it. This was not unknown to the board chair.
What is so disheartening in what had transpired was the total lack of respect by an unelected board and an agency secretary toward the officials from Arlington. The Arlington board members had worked late into the night of Nov. 14 to prepare for the meeting, having only 10 days prior in which to do so.
Lost on Ms. Huling and her board was a recent announcement by U.S. News and World Report naming Arlington as the second best high school in Vermont. I gather she also missed noticing that Arlington’s girls and boys varsity soccer teams were state Division 4 champions? I’m sure Education Secretary Dan French never mentioned to the board chair the advancements Arlington has made under Act 77 and the Pathways programs.
Huling went out of her way to disparage and misrepresent the good work that the Arlington school officials and community committees had been doing to meet the requirements of Acts 46, 49, and 77. Countless meetings had been held with Agency of Education staff and legal personnel. And as recently as this fall, the reports filed were accepted and Arlington was informed it could operate as an independent supervisory union and school district.
It is unfortunate, but when one is treated in such a way as Arlington’s school officials have been by a state agency — along with no assistance from the Legislature — it might very well be time to seek redress in the judiciary. I can’t help but believe that a Bennington Superior Court judge would grant more than four minutes to our school board representatives — and in doing so be respectful and civil.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.