New School Board Rescinds Freeze on Checkbook

Guildhall Elementary School, February 25, 2012

Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. Until last night, a cloud of doubt hung over our Guildhall Elementary School. On Feb 20th, the Board majority had passed a motion freezing the school district checkbook unless a disputed tuition amount for Board member Matt Smith’s child was guaranteed. (See minutes, 2/20/12)

At Town Meeting earlier this week, Mr. Smith was replaced on the Board by Marie Fay. (He did not run for re-election.)

The Board has not acted to pay or guarantee the disputed tuition. (It is still in litigation)

But to their credit, the new board apparently thought better of the motion to freeze, and acted honorably to rescind it. Our school won’t grind to a halt, as many of us had feared.   YAY!

Town Meeting: Reflections

The hottest item at last night’s Town Meeting was the election of a new School Board Director. 91 citizen-voters turned out. The vote count was relatively close, much like last fall’s rescission vote, except it went the other way this time. Marie Fay won with 49 votes to Karen Nelson’s 42.

I supported Karen, had campaigned for her,  and was very sorry to see her lose, especially by so few votes. With her fierce and absolutely unswerving commitment to keeping our school open, she would have been a tremendous asset to our School Board. However, I give Mrs. Fay, the winner, the benefit of the doubt and believe we should all give her a chance, in good faith. I hope she sticks to the statement she made last night–when asked–that she has no agenda to close our school.

The school budget passed with relatively little discussion. This year, in a long overdue move, the School Board is applying $59,000 out of unencumbered funds (surplus) as revenue in order to reduce education property taxes.

We then took up Article #6, which proposed that we conduct the election of School Board Directors and Moderator by Australian ballot. The Town side has been using Australian ballot for many years already. The general consensus in the hall last night was in favor of moving to Australian ballot, in the interest of having a more organized election process and a better informed electorate. A few people admitted to a certain nostalgic regret at the idea of shifting this over to Australian ballot. Actually, I am sympathetic to the nostalgia factor. But I think the need for a more organized and serious approach to electing School Board officers outweighs the nostalgia. The Article passed on a voice vote.

The Town portion of the meeting flew by rapidly. There was virtually no discussion on any of the warned  appropriations. Article #12 proposed making Road Commissioner an appointed rather than elected position. Some people felt strongly that going the appointed route would afford more options for professional roads management. Others felt that keeping it as an elected position was important for local control. In the end, the Article was defeated and the position will remain an elected one.

The Town budget passed with exactly zero discussion or questions. (This always surprises me). $300, 933.00

At the conclusion of the meeting, a woman who lives in Dalton but owns some property in our town, stood up to speak. (We later realized she was not a resident or registered voter–so technically she should not have been allowed to speak without formal unanimous consent).

This woman told the assembly that she didn’t like all the recent publicity generated by our recent town and school controversies. She said she thought that people in town should just deal with each other face to face, that we should not let things get into the news, and that we should go back to some time in the 1700s when “everyone got along.”  (As one of my neighbors commented to me this morning in reference to the woman’s speech last night, “they use to shoot each other in the 1700’s, in contrast to now.)

She was clearly very uneasy with the idea of any publicity about issues in our town–so uneasy that I actually felt badly for her.

But I don’t agree with her.

Does she object to Christina McGrath’s letter to the editor in last week’s Coos County Democrat, in which Mrs. McGrath thoughtfully criticized the Guildhall School Board for it’s freeze on the school checking account? Was she referring to articles written by reporters (which no one can control, that’s for sure)? Was she objecting to Lynn Berry’s recent letter to the editor about the importance of voting? Was she talking about one of my blog posts? Who knows.

This woman said she felt embarrassed by people’s public expression of opinion. In contrast, I feel proud. I feel proud when people care enough about something to write a letter to the editor, or speak out loud at town meeting. Guess what? It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s brave.

This is what democracy is about. We express opinions. We write letters. We make our voices heard. We should never feel embarrassed by that, only proud.

And that’s what Town Meeting is all about.

Town Meeting, Guildhall, Vermont

Passions may be running a little high on certain issues here in Guildhall as we approach Town Meeting. But we are all in this together, even if we disagree. We are Americans and we use the local and proper channels of democracy to resolve problems–attending and speaking up at meetings, writing letters to the editor, petitioning our local officials, voting, and going through the judicial system. In the midst of the disagreements of the last year, I am confident we will resolve our disagreements and remain civil and neighborly in the meantime.

Please vote today, Town Meeting day. Come to the Town Offices from 10am-7pm to vote for local officers by Australian ballot. Come to the evening portion of Town Meeting, at 7pm to elect a new School Board Director and to vote on the town and school budgets, plus other warned articles. Make your voice heard on this historic Vermont day.

On the Town side, we have two Selectboard seats open. Vote for the candidates who will restore productivity, efficiency, fairness and professional calm to our Selectboard.

On the School side, there is one School Board seat open. Vote for the candidate who believes in our school and will work to keep it open, strong and vibrant. Vote for the candidate who will represent the best interests of our School District as a whole.