BARRE — Plans to transform the Central Vermont Career Center into a stand-alone school district have cleared another key hurdle and proponents are now preparing for a mid-December date with the state Board of Education.

It isn’t clear how much to make of the fact the Barre-based career center’s bid for autonomy will be on the state board’s agenda when it meets Dec. 15, but CVCC Director Jody Emerson considers it the latest in a string of promising developments.

The state Agency of Education has suggested what Emerson described Friday as some “mostly minor clarifying edits” to a governance document that would serve as a blueprint for the proposed district. However, she said the vetting process hasn’t raised any red flags so far and indicated the agency has been generally supportive in its back and forth with the committee’s consultant, Michael Deweese.

According to Emerson, the best evidence is the fact the proposal is on the state board’s agenda next month.

“They (agency officials) believed it was ready to move forward,” she said.

The agency’s review was one of the few remaining pivot points in a process that, with the state board’s blessing, would culminate in Town Meeting Day votes in 18 central Vermont communities in March.

Though it isn’t yet clear whether Education Secretary Dan French will make a formal recommendation with respect to the proposal, Emerson hasn’t heard anything that would indicate he would suggest it be denied.

“Everything I’m hearing is positive,” she said of a proposal that would create a truly regional governance structure for what has always been a regional educational resource.

Emerson said generally favorable reviews she received during October visits with school boards in six affected districts were cause for optimism. Those districts include the one in Barre, which has been solely responsible for oversight of the career center since it opened under a different name on the Spaulding High School campus more than 50 years ago.

Earlier this month, Emerson, who was hired by the Barre board earlier this year, secured its approval of a three-year lease that outlines the terms under which the center will continue to occupy its 41,000-square-foot wing at Spaulding.

That lease is with a district that doesn’t yet exist, but, with the blessing of the state board and the collective approval of voters in 18 communities, could be ready for launch next July — a year after Emerson took over as director of the career center and nearly 15 months after an 11-member committee first considered whether to recommend a change in governance.

Fresh off a Thursday night open house that drew 176 residents, including three area lawmakers, Emerson said the committee will meet on Tuesday to prepare for its looming meeting with the state board. That meeting, she said, will be spent reviewing proposed adjustments to the articles of agreement, deciding who should attend the Dec. 15 meeting and discussing a communications plan in the event the state board greenlights the proposal.

Emerson said communication will be key, because while board members have been briefed on the proposed change voters may need to be brought up to speed about what it would and wouldn’t mean in the run up to Town Meeting Day.

“We’re really going to have to get the word out,” she said.

One popular misconception — one belied by the just-approved lease — is that it would necessitate the career center’s relocation. A move may eventually happen and the possibility is actively being explored, but the wing at Spaulding will remain the center’s home for the foreseeable future.

A favorable vote would mean all six districts that send some of their students to the career center would have more than an advisory voice in that process going forward.

Due to their comparatively large size, some would have more say than others.

Based on the proposed articles of agreement, school boards of all six districts — Barre, Cabot, Harwood, Montpelier-Roxbury, Twinfield and Washington Central — would appoint one of their members to the new regional board for the career center. Due to their comparatively large size, four of those districts — Barre, Harwood, Montpelier-Roxbury and Washington Central would each be entitled to one additional representative on the new board. Those four members would be collectively elected by voters in all 18 towns to round out the 10-member board.

If things go well on Dec. 15, candidates for those four seats — like proposed creation of the Central Vermont Career Center School District — would be on the ballot in affected towns in March.

That list is long. It includes both Barres — the city and the town — as well as Montpelier and Roxbury. Washington Central’s five towns — Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Middlesex and Worcester — would be asked to weigh in and so would the six — Duxbury, Fayston, Moretown, Waitsfield and Warren and Waterbury — in the Harwood district. Twinfield’s two towns — Plainfield and Marshfield would have a vote and so would Cabot.

The proposed articles of agreement contemplates the question involving the creation of the new district and the board elections be included on separate ballots that would be collected after the polls in each community on Town Meeting Day, and then comingled before being counted.

The proposal doesn’t break new ground, but it will be a first for current members of the state board because the last time a similar change was approved was in 2004. Vermont currently has three autonomous centers run by regional boards. Assuming state board and then voter approval, the central Vermont center would join career centers in Bennington, Middlebury and Springfield in using that model.

Those centers are all separately governed, but still tethered to the high schools that hosted when they were founded. River Valley Technical Center is located in a wing of Springfield High School, while the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center occupies a wing of Middlebury Union High School. The Southwest Vermont Career Center has its own building, but it is on the campus of Mount Anthony Union High School.


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