The special meeting was called to resolve issues concerning a Vermont school board of insurance audit, which listed access through the community library as the school’s number one security concern. The library has raised concerns because it can only be accessed from inside the school by three doors: one in the main hallway, one in the main classroom hub, and one that connects to a classroom. Fire code does not allow for any of the doors to be locked. According to Readsboro Central School principal Michael Heller, patrons have attempted to leave the library through the classroom door on three separate occasions this school year alone.
The situation came to a head at a selectboard meeting on May 1, when library trustee Priscilla Margola turned in, and later rescinded a resignation letter, after an altercation with school staff regarding security measures. Margola had attempted to access the library from the classroom hall without checking in at the school office and being issued a badge. Margola said she was “manhandled” and “humiliated” by school officials, while Heller said Margola was uncooperative about following security measures the public must abide by.
While the decision is considered a temporary solution, some believe it was a rash decision. School board member and school director Dana Rapp voted against the change of hours, wanting a better solution than keeping the public out. “There are ways to work around this, and the solution didn’t need to come immediately,” said Rapp. “I voted against it, because I think the school and library trustees should work together and come up with ways to access the library in the interim, before a long-term solution is made.”
Rapp voted against the measure while school board members Larry Hopkins and Karen Boisvert voted for it.
The hours went into effect on Monday, and allow the public access from 3 to 7pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 3 to 5 pm on Wednesdays. The new schedule will eliminate Monday’s hours of operations joining Friday as days the library is closed.
The decision infuriated library trustees, who accused the board of being close-minded and not working with them to come up with a solution. “I’m really disappointed they decided to give us just five days notice to close the library until 3 pm,” said Mary Angus, library trustee chair. “I know that security is an issue with incidents that have happened all over the country, but I just would rather be able to work with the school board and find a way that would not limit use of the library.”
Angus said the trustees had begun looking into creating a separate entrance to the library from outside the building, but the school board turned them down. “The school board asked the trustees for recommendations to solve the problem, and ours was to have the separate entrance. We’re looking at ways to fund it, and they said it would take too long, so they voted for a short-term solution and to restrict the hours, instead of a new door and a long-term solution.”
Hopkins agrees that the only suitable long-term solution would be the construction of an outdoor access, but Hopkins also warned the short-term hour restriction could become long term if the trustees can not come up with a plan. “ We (the school board) told them to expect changes in March,” said Hopkins. “We shared the hard copy of the security audit with their chairperson in April, and said they would need to come back and talk about it.”
Hopkins said that the trustees had four weeks to come up with a solution, but came up empty-handed at the meeting with no solid long-term solutions. “They pretty much had nothing about what to do after four weeks.”
Angus said the trustees had tried to bring in a contractor to look at the building and perform work and cost estimations, but the school board became angry when they did, saying they had no right to bring in contractors. According to Hopkins, this is because the school board is solely responsible for the building and must be notified before anyone comes in to address alterations to the building. Hopkins also said that since the meeting, the schoolboard had informed Principal Heller that the trustees are now allowed to bring in contractors to do estimates.
Angus still hopes that the school board will work with the trustees to come up with a permanent solution, because she is concerned about the community that uses the library daily, including home-schooled children, a preschool day care in town, and the elderly who can’t always make it to the library later in the day. “We would like to have a separate entrance by the time the next school year begins,” said Angus. “They dropped it in our lap and we have to come up with a solution if we don’t want our hours permanently cut.”
Angus said the trustees are looking into funding measures as well as grants.
“We satisfied the school’s needs for the short term,” said Hopkins. “The ball’s in their court.”
Heller said that for safety’s sake, this was the right decision, but he hopes a mutual long-term decision can be made by the beginning of the next school year. “This forces everyone to address it and yes, the emotions are high, but I think as far as the safety of students it’s the right decision. We don’t want to cast a negative light on anyone, we just need to have an open discussion and make a solution.”