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Letter from the School Board

Click view more to see the letter from the School Board regarding the upcoming budget vote.
Posted on 03/26/2020
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April

Three-Town School District plans District Meeting without Attendees 

 

Voters in the towns of Athens, Grafton and Westminster were warned to meet at 6:30 on April 9, at the Bellows Falls Union High School in order to vote on our school budget,and to elect school board members. 

Given current conditions The Board has determined that holding that meeting and getting anything done is no longer an option. So, now what?. 

At the time we warned the meeting, the Coronavirus outbreak was a localized epidemic in Wuhan, China. Today it is a global pandemic. While today (March 25) Vermont has one case per 6,000 residents, the current doubling rate of cases in our state is less than five days. By early April it is a near certainty that COVID-19 will reach into even our smallest communities. The Governor has announced emergency restrictions that make conducting a community meeting almost impossible.  And, frankly, trying to hold a meeting under these conditions would be a terrible idea in any case. 

We have a quandary. How can we have a meeting we are legally obligated to conduct when we can’t (and shouldn’t!) have such a meeting? We have been in consultation with the state and here is their suggestion for how we solve the problem.

Both the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office and our Moderator recommend that we conduct a brief meeting for  the sole purpose of postponing that meeting. In order to accommodate state law, there will be a place for people to assemble, either outside or just inside the high school building. We anticipate that most Board members and our moderator, etc. participate online. However, there will be someone at the school to accommodate those community members who wish to attend in person. 

We care about your safety, so in compliance with the Governor’s State of Emergency and plain common sense we recommend that members of the public NOT SHOW UP. This is especially true if you have had any symptoms of a cold or fever, or been in contact with anyone with such symptoms. If you choose to attend anyway, we will ask you to maintain a safe 6-10 distance from your neighbor. 

We would then entertain a motion to postpone the meeting to a date certain, probably three weeks later. 

If you choose to attend, please support such a motion. If the epidemic has not peaked by the new date, we would hold another identical meeting, again hopefully with no one in attendance, and ask for a second delay. 

Mr. Will Senning, who heads the Secretary of State’s Elections office, says his office expects the legislature to modify state law in the interim. His proposal would allow your Board to convert the district meeting into a series of Australian ballot measures. This would allow voters to vote the proposed budget, up or down, and to elect board members. At this time, it is not clear to us whether “in person” voting would be required or if the legislature will allow residents to vote by mail. 

I urge you all to contact your local legislators. Please ask them to make passage of such a bill one of their first priorities. There are towns and school districts across the state that face a situation almost identical to that of our local school district. We need legislation that will ensure public safety and make certain that our tradition of local democracy remains intact. 

Thank you all for your forbearance during this strange and challenging period.

Jack Bryar

School Board Chair

Windham Northeast Union Elementary School District

(Westminster, Athens, and Grafton, VT)

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