Members of the new White River Valley Unified District board are sworn into office by Vermont Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe. (Provided / Andra Bowen)

Newly Married School Board Takes Office

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Jo Levasseur

The new unified board for the Bethel-Royalton school merger was launched at a formal swearing-in ceremony on Thursday, Jan. 25, at Whitcomb High School in Bethel.

Vermont Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe, who swore in the new six-member board, characterized the event as “a bit of a wedding,” as it marked the merger of two towns.

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In another metaphor, the education secretary said the seating of the new board, at a time when the individual Royalton and Bethel School Boards are entering their final months of existence, is a transition not unlike “one plane landing while the other is taking off.”

Holcombe commended the two towns’ efforts for being resourceful, letting go of boundaries, focusing on and including the students. The 6 p.m. meeting was a warned, special meeting of the new district— the White River Unified District—at which about 25 voters from the two towns passed motions establishing the new district and granting board powers.

In voting from the floor, Allison Fulcher of Royalton was elected as the WRUD moderator. Other school district officers elected were Pam Brown of Bethel as treasurer, and Tammy Benoit as district clerk.

In other motions, voters approved to budget $1,800 annually to compensate the treasurer, $150 each for the moderator and clerk to conduct the annual meetings, and to pay each board member a $600 compensation. The pay for the treasurer represents the combined total of the amount that the individual Bethel and Royalton districts have paid their respective treasurers.

The annual meeting of the WRUD was set for the first Tuesday of March.

It was noted that Royalton and Bethel school districts will hold their traditional—and final—school meetings in March as well. The outgoing school boards will remain officeholders until the unified board takes over in July; any positions on the old boards expiring in March will need to be filled for those four remaining months.

Motions carried authorizing the unified board to pay bills, borrow money, and announce upcoming annual budgets.

Getting to Work

At the conclusion of this school district meeting, the new WRUD board held its first meeting—and it was a long one, running from 7:20- 10 p.m.

Supt. Bruce Labs called the meeting to order and then handed off the meeting to Lisa Floyd of Bethel, after she was elected board chair. Andrew Jones was elected vice chair; Lisa McCrory, clerk; and Tammy Benoit was appointed recording secretary.

Truant officers appointed were the principals of each school. The media organizations of record will be the Valley News, The Herald of Randolph, WDEV radio, and WCAXTV.

Board meetings were set for 6 p.m., the third Tuesday of the month, at alternating locations. Designated posting places for meeting warnings are the town clerk’s offices, the schools, the SU website, and the district’s social media site.

School Mascot, Colors

Under “public concerns,” Yuliya Ballou and Sandy Manouvelos of Royalton urged the board to retain the South Royalton colors and mascot for sports at the merged high school.

That request was countered by close to a dozen members of the audience, from both towns, some of whom suggested it was time to focus on issues such as educational programs.

Bethel students Victoria Bonsignore and Grace Lafromboise said, that as Whitcomb students who will attend the unified high school in Royalton, they would feel more included and welcome if there were a new set of colors and mascot, representing the school as a union of both towns.

The board ultimately accepted the recommendation of Supt. Labs— based on the results of student voting— to use a color from each Whitcomb and SoRo School, making the team colors green and gold, with a new mascot of a wildcat.

The board also approved the school names that were most popular with students: the White River Valley Middle School at Bethel and the White River Valley High School at South Royalton.

Board Chair Floyd explained this week that the board felt that these details should be decided by students.

After lengthy discussion, it was agreed that the annual school meeting this year, on Tuesday, March 6, would be at 6 p.m., to be preceded by a community potluck.

The site for this year’s meeting was decided by chance: Board member Dave Eddy of Bethel flipped a coin and South Royalton student Tyler Ballentine called heads for Royalton. The coin landed tails, and so the meeting will be in Bethel. Going forward, the meeting site will alternate between the two towns each March.

The board approved a proposed FY18-19 budget of $11,670,767 for WRUD operations. Voters will be asked to approve the budget at the annual meeting.

Floyd noted that having a Tuesday night annual meeting will be a change for Royalton voters, who have traditionally held their school meeting on a Monday night.

Tuesday evening was selected, she said, so as not to conflict with meetings in the SU, and so that the district’s interim business manager can be on hand to help explain the complexities of the merged budget and tax rates.

Sandy Vondrasek contributed to this article.


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