By Norwood Long
Special To The Standard
READING — The Reading Elementary school board is clearly a house divided.
On Tuesday, October 18, the board — John Fike, chair, Justin Sluka, vice chair, and John Philpin, secretary — voted at a regularly scheduled meeting to submit a school budget at the Reading annual meeting in March 2012 funding the school during the 2012-2013 school year. On the following Tuesday, October 25, at a special 8 a.m. school board meeting, John Fike resigned as chair of the board saying he did not believe that proposing only a budget to keep the school open would provide the best educational opportunities for the children of Reading. After Fike’s resignation Justin Sluka became chair, John Philpin remained secretary, and Fike said he would finish his three-year term, which began in 2010, as a member. The meeting was adjourned with no further discussion.
Following that meeting, a group of eight to ten concerned parents and town residents spoke about the events leading up to Fike’s resignation. They said that on Thursday, October 13, a community forum held in the school had been attended by about 100 town residents and officials, representatives from the Windsor Central Supervisory Union, and new part time Reading School principal Lou Lafasciano (“I arrived with Hurricane Irene”) and his staff. In the October 20 Vermont Standard, an article about that meeting titled “Reading Elementary Eyes Closing” by Laura Power reported that, “Last week’s meeting focused on a proposal to close the kindergarten-through-grade-six school, and to instead send children to Woodstock Elementary School (WES) as tuition students.” Several parents said on October 25 that, while they had been hearing about the possibility of closing Reading Elementary School for several years, they were dismayed to learn at the October 13 meeting not only that it might happen next year, but that students would be sent to Woodstock without opportunities to discuss such other possible alternatives and options as sending students to the Brownsville School or Albert Bridge in West Windsor which had been discussed earlier. (John Fike, reached by telephone the day after the October 25 meeting, said that over the years he had written articles in local newsletters, and that several school board meetings had been devoted to the options, so that there had been opportunities for town residents to discuss the alternatives.)
Many of the concerned parents also said that at the October 13 forum the new Superintendent of the Supervisory Union, Alice Worth, “…only seemed interested in closing Reading and having the students come to Woodstock.” Town resident and education professional Libbet Downs, who heads a citizens group that is discussing options, said that at the October 13 meeting Superintendent Worth had proposed that Woodstock Elementary School Principal Karen White visit Reading Elementary School to talk to the students, and that Reading students visit Woodstock Elementary School. “I think it’s far too soon, and confusing to them, to involve the students” said Downs.
Reading Principal Lou Lafasciano said that a Woodstock Elementary School board meeting on September 12 with Reading Elementary School board members present had resulted in a request by the boards for immediate transition planning by the two principals, with the possibility of having the Reading students go to Woodstock next year. Earlier, John Fike said that prior to the October 18 school board meeting he had supported bringing two alternative budgets to the next annual meeting, one with the students going to Woodstock and the other with them staying in Reading.
Reading board member John Philpin, following the October 25 special meeting, said he thought the primary reason the school board had chosen on October 18 to bring only one budget keeping the school open next year to annual meeting was that there wasn’t enough time between now and March for voters to prepare to vote on the alternatives given the uncertainties: the impact on costs and taxes, the impact on the curriculum and other school activities, and the reasons for narrowing the choice of schools to only Reading and Woodstock.
In the October 27 conversation, Principal Lou Lasfasciano said he had been explicitly charged by the school board at their meeting on October 18 to develop an operating budget for the Reading Elementary School that, “serves the best interests of Reading’s children.”
Lafasciano also said he had led a discussion covering the “desired state” of several educational categories based on comments and input from the participants at the community forum on October 13, to help define what Reading parents and residents want as an education for their children. He said that if the tax revenues didn’t cover some “desired state” items, he was prepared to look for alternative funding sources such as grants and “angels” in the community. As an example, he identified early childhood education—full day kindergarten and preschool—as being of particular interest.
Community organizer Libbet Downs on October 26 said she hopes that, starting immediately, the Reading School Board will propose a program of meetings and activities to explore educational alternatives in depth, including their impact on costs, curriculum, special programs, commuting time, school location, and all aspects of the educational experience.
Principal Lou Lasfasicano has proposed one guiding principal for decisions made during this time: what’s best for the children of Reading. But while many groups have an interest in the Reading School only one will determine its fate: the voters of Reading.
By Norwood Long