BENNINGTON, Vt. -- Southwest Vermont Super visory Union is considering a waiver request to allow school board alternates for the supervisory union board to ensure greater representation at monthly meetings.
Such a waiver was approved by the State Board of Education for a supervisory union in Orange County earlier this month, giving hope to some that SVSU will also be granted exemption from a statute that states only three school board members from each district may be elected to supervisory union boards.
The SVSU board is made up three members from each of the six member districts, making it an 18-member board. SVSU meetings often attract just enough to form a quorum. There have been also been times over the past year that meetings had be postponed because at least 10 members could not make the regularly scheduled meeting.
Years ago, SVSU districts did designate alternate members in case one of its three representatives could not attend a meeting, although that practice changed after receiving legal opinion advising against alternates in 2008.
Even with the opinion, some board members have still advocated for alternates and have pointed to other supervisory unions that have not asked for a legal opinion and continue to operate with alternates. In March, the Bennington School District Board asked for additional legal opinions from SVSU’s attorney, the Department of Education and the Vermont School Boards Association.
All three responses were that alternates are not permitted under statute. At the time, BSD board members George Sleeman and Ken Swierad said they wanted a way to ensure BSD had three representatives at the SVSU table for all meetings so the district was properly represented.
At a brief SVSU meeting last week, Chairwoman Sean-Marie Oller, who also sits on the state board, told the board it could request a waiver. Because of Oller’s involvement on the state board, Vice Chairwoman Cynthia Brownell will draft a letter requesting the waiver that the board will review at its next meeting and decide whether it wishes to proceed with the request.
"I think it would be very helpful for this board if we did go ahead and try to get an alternate," Brownell said. "Since we’ve eliminated the alternate it’s always been month to month worrying about do we have enough [people to make a quorum]."
Complicating the idea of alternates is that Woodford School District operates with a three-member school district board, all of whom are also on the SVSU board. One of those members has not attended an SVSU meeting in years although Woodford does not have another member it could select as an alternate, which could be perceived as a disadvantage. Neither of the Woodford representatives spoke against the idea Tuesday.
The Orange North Super visory Union request was approved by the state board earlier this month, although Oller voted against the waiver because she wished to look at the request as a "big picture" issue.