BARRE — The first elected board of one of Vermont’s forced school district mergers was sworn in and seated on Thursday and its nine new members got right down to business.
The board of the soon-to-be-launched Barre Unified Union School District covered a lot of ground as it readies to assume operational responsibility for currently autonomous elementary schools in Barre and Barre Town, as well as jointly owned but separately run Spaulding High School.
The governance transition — from three separately elected school boards to one — won’t officially occur until July 1, but Superintendent John Pandolfo told board members they must move swiftly because while the two Barres are comfortably ahead of most other forced mergers, the timeline is still tight.
It didn’t hurt that eight of the board’s nine members currently serve on one of the three boards that will be extinguished after they approve audits for the fiscal year that ends July 1. And it really didn’t hurt that members arrived at the meeting focused on the future — not the divisive process that led to their election.
It was a night that featured a string of unanimous decisions and ended with one token dissent.
Board members, who met in the library at Spaulding High School, warmed to the idea of establishing a regular rotation for holding its monthly meetings in each of the three schools after summer vacation. Those who initially advocated holding all meetings at Spaulding conceded the value of having a consistent meeting location wasn’t as important as regularly visiting each of the schools for which they will soon be responsible.
The nine-member board includes Tim Boltin, Giuliano Cecchinelli, Chris Riddell and Sonya Spaulding, who were all elected by Barre voters on Tuesday, as well as Paul Malone, Gina Akley, Rebecca Kerin-Hutchins and Victoria Pompei who were elected in Barre Town. It also included Guy Isabelle, who lives in Barre Town, but was elected by voters in both communities to fill the lone “at-large” seat.
The board kicked off a string of unanimous votes by electing Malone, who lives in Barre Town, to serve as chairman — a role he now fills on the Spaulding board.
Spaulding, who now serves as chairwoman of the city’s school board, was elected vice chairwoman, and Victoria Pompei, a school director in Barre Town, was elected clerk.
Members agreed to meet on the second Thursday of each month at 5:30 p.m., while reserving the fourth Thursday if needed.
After dealing with committee assignments and other procedural issues, the board unanimously adopted the $45 million budget that will be presented to voters in both communities on May 14. The consolidated budget will cover the cost of pre-K-12 education in the merged district and is a compilation of spending plans for the elementary schools and the high school.
The $45.1 million figure that will appear on the ballot includes nearly $12.5 million in projected revenue. Education spending in the merged district is projected to be roughly $32.7 million, while spending per equalized pupil will be $13,562. The latter figure is among the lowest in the state.
Conservative projections indicate approval of the budget would lead to a 5-cent rate hike in both communities, though Pandolfo told board members that could be closer to 3 cents if numbers now being discussed in the Legislature are approved.
The board also warned a companion vote on the $3.1 million budget for the Central Vermont Career Center, which is part of the high school complex.
Board members took steps to ease the transition by taking care of some grant-related business and approving language that will allow employees to continue participating in the Vermont Municipal Employees’ Retirement System.
Among the weightier decisions of the evening involved awarding the food service contract for all three schools to Aladdin Food Management Services. Aladdin, which already has the contract for Barre City Elementary and Middle School and Spaulding High School, will add Barre Town Elementary and Middle schools under the consolidated contract next year.
Aladdin was the top-rated choice of six administrators from all three schools and the supervisory union who evaluated the three proposals that were received. The Abbey Group, which now has the Barre Town contract, was the lowest rated.
Board members unanimously approved the contract, though Pompei noted the price of a lunch — $3.05 — represents a 50-cent-a-meal increase that could be a hardship for some in Barre Town.
Though city school commissioners recently approved plans to invest more than $280,000 in the latest phase of a roof replacement project at the Barre City Elementary and Middle School, the merged board was asked to approve the bid award to Evergreen Roofing because the work will occur after July 1. The vote was unanimous.
The board was also asked to make several hiring decisions, including two that were discussed during its first-ever executive session.
Spaulding requested the closed door meeting and cast the only “no” vote of the evening on a motion to hire Erica Pearson, the assistant principal at Barre Town Middle and Elementary School, to serve as co-principal of that school. Pearson was the choice of a search committee, approved by the Barre Town board and recommended by Pandolfo to fill the vacancy created by the looming departure of Principal Scott Griggs.
Griggs isn’t going far. The board unanimously agreed to hire him as assistant director of the career center — a post he held before taking the principal’s job in Barre Town — following Thursday night’s executive session.