Petition calls for revote on one board

VERGENNES — As expected, Vergennes officials were handed on Tuesday a petition calling for a revote of the city’s Town Meeting Day decision to approve changing governance of the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union to a one-board system.
City Manager Mel Hawley said Aldermen Ziggy Comeau and David Austin and former planning commission member Michael Ferland each dropped off petitions with signatures calling for a second vote on the question. The total number of signatures totaled 85, in excess of the 75 needed to trigger a revote.
Austin said at a March city council meeting that petitioners were concerned about the tax impact of the change.
Vergennes residents voted on March 2 by a 232-142 margin, or 62-38 percent, in favor of a switch to one board to govern all four ANwSU schools.
The other four ANwSU towns joined the city by similar margins — the overall percentage tally was 63-37, and the count ran 908-539 in favor of the governance change, which is scheduled to take effect in 2011.
All five ANwSU communities must support the governance change for it to take place. If one town overturns its vote, the Town Meeting Day decision of all five towns would be over-ruled.
City officials handed the petition to the Vergennes Graded School District Board, which technically has authority over it. Hawley said that board is scheduled to meet on April 19, and he expects the board to set a vote date then.
That vote must be held within 60 days of the petition’s submission, meaning that the latest possible date for a special election would be May 28.
In order for the March 2 decision to be overturned, officials said the opposing votes must earn more than a simple majority in a revote.
Votes in favor of retaining the existing eight-board system, which will drop to five boards by next year, must also “exceed two-thirds of the number of votes cast for the prevailing side” in the original vote, according to the state statute.
That means at least 155 Vergennes residents must vote against the change at the revote, officials said.
The petition handed in by Austin, Comeau and Ferland phrased the question in this manner:
“Shall the voters of the Vergennes Incorporated School District (Vergennes Graded School District) rescind the March 2, 2010, approval of Article 1 and therefore NOT join the Addison Northwest Unified Union School District.”
Therefore, a “yes” vote in the next election in Vergennes will be a vote to overturn the March 2 vote and retain the existing five-board system, and a “no” note will be in favor of the one-board system.
The March ANwSU vote was hailed statewide, including by Commissioner of Education Armando Vilaseca, as a step forward toward school consolidation that could eventually help control spiraling education costs.
The Addison Central Supervisory Union board on March 24 reviewed a report that is spurring an examination on school governance and consolidation in that district, which has a middle school, a high school, and  seven elementary schools, some of which are dealing with rapidly declining enrollments. 
ANwSU officials have applied for a $150,000 bonus from the Department of Education for successfully consolidating to one-board governance, and expect that ANwSU will be awarded that money if consolidation is completed.
Reporter Andy Kirkaldy is at andyk@addisonindependent.com.


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