Act 46 RED goes to voters: What will merger mean?

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Study Committee chair Bruce Schmidt works on the ‘committee charge” at an early TRSU Act 46 meeting in November 2015. Chester Telegraph photo.

Next Tuesday, May 2, the voters of Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester will decide whether they will join their existing school districts into a new, unified one to fulfill the requirements of the state’s school consolidation law.

The Regional Education District — or RED — that will be created is not the best case and it could have been better, but what is now before the voters is the result of a long and difficult process. 

The school boards of the four towns are recommending passage of the merger, but what will the merger mean to students, parents and taxpayers?

On the face of things in the four communities, not much will change. Kids from Chester and Andover will continue to go to Chester-Andover for elementary school and Green Mountain for middle and high school. Children from Cavendish will attend their elementary school in Proctorsville, then attend GMUHS. If Baltimore (which doesn’t operate schools) votes to join the district, current students will be able to continue to go to the schools they now attend under school choice, but students joining the district after this year will attend either Cavendish Elementary or Chester-Andover Elementary, then attend Green Mountain High.

School system employees Craig Hutt Vater and Venissa White were critical of the RED plan for not providing enough educational opportunities.

Critics of the plan point to this “steady state” as a weakness since the student body would not be growing much and more students means more money to put toward educational opportunities. Among these were several Green Mountain students who proposed an academy-style campus at Black River High School, but that had additional costs and would have transferred Ludlow’s higher property tax rates to the other towns in the union.

While the RED merger will help stabilize the tax rates, it’s unclear what savings can be realized from it and how much those savings can buy in educational opportunities.  One long-time board member is confident that money-saving efficiencies will be found in the new consolidated budget.

“The savings will come from creating the very first budget from the bottom up,” said Green Mountain High School board chair Alison DesLauriers. Such a zero-based budgeting approach would question spending assumptions and look for alternatives.

Increased educational opportunity was one of the criteria that state regulators were looking at in approving merger plans before they could go to the voters. The State Board of Education approved the plan on March 21.  With voter approval of the plan, the towns also get to keep a number of incentives like small-school grants and a hold-harmless that helps keep year-to-year losses in student population from spiking tax rates. The schools will also receive transition grants and a reduction in tax rates each year (from 8 cents to 2 cents) over four years.

The merger will not be the only thing on the ballot next week. Each town will elect the directors for the board of the new district and it i this board that will be creating the budget and finding the savings to increase educational opportunities. Ironically, the reduction from six school boards to one will create the first savings. The new board will not actually be governing the schools until July 2018 so it has time to plan for operating the system.

Among the areas where school officials and board members have suggested that cost savings might be found are:

  • Centralized coordination of bus transportation
  • Elimination of six school boards and the expenses that come with them
  • Elimination of multiple budgets, reports, government filings etc. and the staff time that it takes to produce them
  • Cuts that reflect the departure of Ludlow, Mt. Holly and Plymouth from the supervisory union
  • Elimination of inter-district payments for space and services
  • Moving the supervisory union office to underutilized space owned by the district
  • Greater flexibility in sharing teachers and other staff among schools with far less paperwork

TRSU business manager Chris Adams told The Telegraph that forming the RED was a move to protect what was good in the system and avoid a state-mandated merger. Adams said that the work ahead — if voters approve the new district — will be in controlling costs in the transition to a smaller supervisory union.

Candidates for the Green Mountain Unified School District board are:

Andover (1 seat): Joseph Fromberger

Baltimore (1 seat): Wayne Wheelock and Kathy Muther

Cavendish (3 seats): Doug McBride, Fred Marin, Bruce Pollard

Chester (6 seats): Alison DesLauriers, Marilyn Mahusky, Erin Lamson, Deb Brown and Jeff Hance

Information meetings on the merger will be held at

  • Cavendish Elementary School, 573 Main St., Proctorsville at 6:30 p.m.  Tuesday, April 25,
  • Andover Town Hall, 953 Weston-Andover Road, Andover at 10 a.m.  Saturday, April 29
  • Chester Town Hall, 556 Elm St., Chester at 6 p.m.  Monday, May 1.

The vote to create a Regional Education District will take place from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 2 at:

  • Andover Town Hall, 953 Weston-Andover Road, Andover;
  • Baltimore Town Office, 1902 Baltimore Road, Baltimore;
  • Cavendish Elementary School, 573 Main St., Proctorsville and
  • Chester Town Hall, 556 Elm St., Chester.

CHESTER VOTERS: Speaking of educational opportunities, during voting on May 2, Green Mountain High students will be raising funds for an April 2018 rip to the Grand Canyon by selling chili, sandwiches and baked goods at Chester Town Hall. So remember to bring some cash.

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  1. Stuart Lindberg says:

    “Consolidating power in the hands of bureaucrats, superintendents, and minions operating ever farther from the schools and classrooms they govern doesn’t foster equity or quality. All it promotes is inappropriately uniform, one-size-fits-all regulations and policies… All it promotes is inappropriately uniform, one-size-fits-all regulations and policies.…When are we going to realize that schools have become so expensive because of the mandates and “initiatives” forced on them from above? Yet these are the same administrative officials and state bureaucracies in whom consolidation would vest even more power.….The last thing we should do is surrender more authority to remote officials who have proven the most inclined to inflate costs and the least competent to ensure the quality of our children’s education.” – Weathersfield schoolteacher Peter Berger (VTDigger 3/25/15) Please Vote NO on May 2nd.