August 21, 2014

Williston School Board will hold most meetings in Hinesburg

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Venue more convenient for administrators

By Michelle Edelbaum
Observer staff

The Williston School Board has moved most of its meetings out of town.

The board will now hold all but a few sessions at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg, about 10 miles away. The board will meet in Williston only when it is discussing the budget or when there is a “hot” issue, said Chairwoman Marty Sundby.

School officials said the change was made to ease the burden on administrators from Chittenden South Supervisory Union, who must attend many area towns’ school board meetings. They say the venue allows all boards to meet in a central location at one time, facilitating cooperation among schools in the supervisory union, which includes Williston, St. George, Shelburne, Hinesburg and Charlotte.

“We’re still at a district school,” Sundby said. “It makes good use of time. It will make it more productive to get work done as a district.”

Some Williston residents, however, question the board’s choice of venue.

“I think it’s a bad idea,” said Jeffrey Smith, a Williston resident and parent. “I don’t think it is in the public’s or the teachers’ best interest.

“But I understand why they’re doing it. If I were the superintendent, I would want that, too. They have a lot of meetings. But it is not good for the public.”

Sundby said that the board decided at its July retreat — itself held outside of Williston, at the upscale Inn at Essex — to have its monthly meetings at CVU on the second Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m., following the Chittenden South Supervisory Union meeting at 5 p.m. The four other School Boards in the supervisory union will have meetings at the same time and location; some boards that have more than one meeting a month and may hold a second meeting in their town.

In 2003, the Williston School Board decided to alternate meeting locations between CVU and Williston Central School. The recent change means fewer meetings will occur in Williston.

Sundby said the board has 11 regular meetings per year and in the past it held six of those meetings in Williston. The board will now hold all 11 monthly meetings at CVU in Hinesburg.

The board will still hold meetings in Williston during budget season, in addition to its monthly meetings. The board would also consider holding meetings in Williston when there is widespread interest in a topic, Sundby said. The School Board last met in Williston in June.

CSSU administrators, such as Superintendent Brian O’Regan, often attend School Board meetings, which keep them out many nights per month, said Williston School District Principal Walter Nardelli. With the supervisory union school boards in one location, reports can be presented to all boards at once, he said.

School officials say that few people attend board meetings when they are held in Williston.

“If we include teacher and administrators, we’re lucky to have one or two people,” Sundby said. “We didn’t make a decision because we don’t want people to come. We would love for people to come. But we generally don’t have it.”

School Board member Jeanette DiScala said the decision to hold most meetings in Hinesburg wasn’t controversial among board members.

“If the community has concerns about that, I’d like to hear that,” DiScala said.

Meg Hart-Smith, a Williston resident, member of the CVU School Board and former Williston School Board member, said that she understands the benefit of having the meetings in one place and thinks there is value in not burning out administrators. Because of those reasons Hart-Smith voted for the change as a CVU board member. But she said that if she were a Williston School Board member, she would not have voted in favor of holding meetings in Hinesburg.

“I think it’s a loss for the Williston community,” Hart-Smith said. “Even though the turnout was not good in Williston, it will be dismal in Hinesburg.”

Smith said he doesn’t think it makes sense to have to drive to Hinesburg for a Williston School Board meeting. When asked what Sundby would tell parents who were frustrated about driving to Hinesburg, she said, “I would encourage them to drive to CVU and see the other school that their children attend.”

Hart-Smith has another suggestion for parents.

“I think they should ask the board for an auxiliary meeting in Williston once an month and ask for more advance notification on agendas for the CVU meeting and the Williston meeting so if there is something important, they can plan to attend,” she said. “Other boards meet twice an month and maybe it’s time for Williston to reconsider that.”

DiScala said she would understand parents’ frustration and would be open to having meetings in Williston if that’s what people wanted.

Smith wondered how the board plans to communicate their decision to hold fewer meeting in Williston to the public.

Sundby said that all the meetings have to be legally warned in the newspaper and other places she was unable to specify. She said she was not sure if something was in the School Bell, the Williston School District newsletter.

There was no mention of the change in the Sept. 8 School Bell. Cindy Pavlik, who prepares the newsletter, said she hadn’t received anything from the Williston School Board announcing the change.

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