To the Editor:
An open letter to members of the Harwood Union school district community:
I want to update you on the status of two petitions to amend the Harwood district’s articles of agreement recently received by the school board.
We received the petitions on Jan. 14 and they were certified by our clerk on Jan. 15 as having enough signatures (5 percent of total registered voters in the six-town district).
At that stage, the board needed to consider whether or not to include the amendments as ballot questions within the district’s annual meeting articles on Town Meeting Day.
After conferring with the Secretary of State’s office as well as our attorney, Nicole Mace, the board rejected the petitions. You can find a detailed legal opinion online in our Jan. 22 board packet, but the short version is:
• Petition 1 proposed amending Article 6(E), K-8 School Closures, to say that a school could not be closed without its town voting to approve such a closure. While our voters have authority to amend article 6, the petitioned article defined school closure as follows: “Closure of a school includes wholly or partially repurposing a school building from classroom instruction to another use.”
This definition would prevent the board from repurposing classrooms for uses such as offices, after-school programs, food service or storage and would require approval by the electorate for such repurposing. As such, our attorney indicated that “the petitioned article includes language that impermissibly grants the electorate the authority to dictate how school facilities are used.”
• Petition 2 proposed amending Article 12, School Configuration, to say that any change to the grade configuration in any of the Harwood schools had to be approved by the electorate zoned for that school. But if we go back to the initial merger vote in 2016, the voters in all six Harwood towns voted on a warning (created according to state requirements) that gave this authority to the board, not the electorate.
As stated by our legal counsel, “If approved, the school configuration article would fundamentally erode the school board’s statutory authority to make policy and take actions necessary for the sound administration of the district.”
Basically, because both petitions included language that would have given the electorate authority it does not currently have according to state statute and judicial precedent, they were not required to be accepted by the board.
After lengthy discussion and public comment, the board voted to reject the petitions.
At our meeting Jan. 22, some board members expressed interest in considering other articles that would offer our voters an opportunity to weigh in on how certain decisions, such as school closures, are made in our district. We expect to take up this question at our board meetings in the near future.
While any articles the board might present would not appear at Town Meeting Day 2020, they could come before the voters at another date.
Chair, Harwood Union school board