Pratt leaving WSSU, board to consider options
WHITINGHAM- Supervisory union board members accepted the resignation of superintendent Christopher Pratt at their regular meeting Wednesday, March 28. Pratt’s last day will be June 30, according to his letter of resignation. According to a February article that appeared in the Claremont, NH-based Eagle Times, Pratt was offered a position as superintendent of Windham Northeast Supervisory Union. Pratt has served as Windham Southwest Supervisory Union Superintendent since 2014.
The board also discussed a letter from former Vermont Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe authorizing the board to hire an interim superintendent for a year, rather than a permanent replacement for Pratt. According to Holcombe’s letter, the move was in anticipation of changes that may occur under Act 46. “As the state board (of education) develops the required statewide plan under Act 46, it may need to reconfigure supervisory union borders to make districts part of a larger supervisory union by July 1, 2019. This may affect your current supervisory union borders.”
But Holcombe also suggested the board consider requesting that the state reassign WSSU districts to another supervisory union. “Given the prior challenges you have experienced with hiring and retaining quality superintendents, I want to make sure you are aware of another option. You can request that the state board (of education) reassign the districts in your current supervisory union to one or more neighboring supervisory unions.”
Supervisory union board chair Chum Sumner interpreted Holcombe’s letter as a portent of an effort by the state to combine Windham Southwest Supervisory Union with Windham Central Supervisory Union. Sumner referred to a previous feasibility study on combining the two supervisory unions, which he called “35 pages of nothing,” that recommended merging the supervisory unions and having a central office in Dover. “It would be a real feather in their cap if they can reduce the number of supervisory unions in the state,” Sumner said.
In other matters, Twin Valley members of the board pulled off a coup regarding the distribution of state Act 156 union transition funds.
Business manager Karen Atwood explained that the supervisory union received the money as part of a package of incentives for merging town districts into larger unified union school districts and creating a “side-by-side” under Act 156. Atwood suggested spending $30,000 to reimburse districts for the cost of merger votes and elections out of the $150,000.
Atwood and Pratt also requested that the supervisory union board use another $7,500 to move the supervisory union offices to another part of the former high school building in Wilmington. Atwood said OSEC has asked them to relocate from their current offices, which are located in former school administrative offices in the 1950 wing. “They don’t want us to be at the front door,” Atwood said. “So we looked at the far end of the hall in the old building, where there are three rooms that would fit our size and budget. Chris came up with some ideas for dividing the rooms. We’ll need some walls for private spaces. There will be some construction to make it work for us, and we’ll have to move the phone, internet, and server down there.”
Atwood said it would cost up to $7,500 for the entire move. Pratt noted that, even with the cost of the move, the space came at a bargain price. “There’s nothing cheaper out there,” he said. “And if we went somewhere else we’d have to pay utilities and moving fees, and even more. Costwise, this is still the most fiscally responsible option.”
Atwood suggested dividing the remaining $112,500 between the two unified union districts, Southern Valley and Twin Valley. But Wilmington representative Kathy Larsen offered a motion to divide the money based on the number of students served in each union district. Whitingham representative Sharon Berry seconded the motion.
Readsboro and Halifax representatives signaled their opposition to the proposed split. But board members from Stamford and Searsburg, towns that haven’t merged and wouldn’t receive a portion of the remainder of the grant, signaled they would abstain from voting on the motion.
Sumner called for a vote on the motion, and in the chorus of yeas and nays, it wasn’t immediately clear whether the motion had passed. “Well, there are six Twin Valley members and four Southern Valley members present,” Atwood said. “And I think that’s the way the votes went.” Board members agreed.