School merger study committee begins work

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Act 46 committee meeting

Committee chair Bruce Schmidt moves wording for the statement of its task around on the floor as committee members and consultant Diana Watson, right, look on.

Sitting on small chairs in the Chester-/Andover Elementary School Library last week a group took up the task of studying merger options as required by Vermont’s new school consolidation law.

Under Act 46, the state is encouraging school districts throughout Vermont to look at and adopt consolidation plans geared toward lowering the cost of providing public education. The 64-page law offers a complex set of options for school mergers. Localities must decide which path to take before a 2019 deadline when those who have not made a choice will have their streamlined governance mandated for them.

The committee,  comprised of school board members and community representatives from the seven towns that make up the Two Rivers Supervisory Union, held its second meeting on Wednesday Nov. 18, creating and adopting a statement of the task ahead. The seven towns represented are Chester, Andover, Cavendish, Ludlow, Mt. Holly, Baltimore and Plymouth.

With the help of Vermont School Boards Association consultant Diana Watson, the group took up the ideas that were discussed in the first meeting on Oct. 28 and knit together the various elements that should be included its task and agreed to the following:

We the merger study committee, pursuant to Act 46 will study the benefits and challenges of different governance structures to identify viable options for forming a union school district comprising the towns (school district) of ______. The result of which will be more effective and higher quality educational opportunities. We will ensure local towns’ input through public forum(s?), best interests of students, and the best financial interests of the towns.”

While there are several governance structures suggested by the state, the makeup of the supervisory union makes some of them either impossible or impractical, according to Superintendent Bruce Williams, but there is still some room for choice. A large portion of the meeting involved framing the questions that need to be answered and forming subcommittees to pursue those questions.

The consolidation process looks to be long and complex with consequences for the area’s property tax rates. Residents in all of the towns affected will be asked to vote on whichever plan the committee puts forward, so The Telegraph will look at Act 46 in general and area school consolidation options in particular in the weeks and months to come.

The committee will hold its meetings at its constituent schools throughout the study process. The next meeting will be held at Green Mountain Union High School at 6 p.m. Wednesday Dec. 16. These meetings are open to the public.

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