Vermont Act 46 provides incentives, including property tax rate reductions, for school districts to consolidate. This week, the first three plans came before the Vermont State Board of Education. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley reports on what could be in store for Rutland and the rest of the state.
School districts across Vermont are reviewing their operational structures and determining whether they should consolidate under Act 46. The new law provides tax incentives to districts that consolidate with a goal of saving money and providing equal education to all students. On Tuesday, the State Board of Education reviewed and approved merger plans from the Rutland South, Addison Central and Rutland Northeast supervisory unions.
Board Chair Stephan Morse explains that between now and 2019 all school districts in the state must review their governance structures. “This is indeed the beginning of a very historic process. Vermont has not looked at its school governance in a serious way since the 1890’s. This new legislation Act 46 that went into effect with this legislative session will start that process off. On the board there’s a strong feeling that we need to change our school governance to make sure that we provide the most equitable educational system that we can provide for all of Vermont.”
The process begins with a local study committee creating a proposal that is submitted to the Agency of Education. Once the agency assures the proposal is in compliance with Act 46, it is sent to the Board of Education for approval.
There are 277 school districts in Vermont. Vermont School Boards Association Executive Director Nicole Mace says most local school boards have been enthusiastic about designing a better system for students and taxpayers. “Board members are taking Act 46 very seriously and are in the process of understanding what options are available to them, engaging their communities in that conversation. And to the extent they’re putting together a proposal and bringing it forward to the state board what I’m seeing is it reflects their belief that moving forward is in the best interest of the students and communities that they serve. And we expect approximately 15 such proposals to be submitted to voters in 2016. These are the first three and there will be more coming forward over the next several months.”
In its consolidation plan, the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union estimates annual savings of $16,400, noting many cost savings have already been realized. Rutland South Supervisory Union expects annual savings of about $100,000. The Addison Central Supervisory Union says their consolidation plan will result in annual cost reductions of about $176,000.
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin says Act 46 is exceeding his expectations and is encouraged now that the first districts’ consolidation plans have been approved. “We’ve got 20,000 fewer students in our schools than we had just a few years ago. We’ve got the same old administrative structure. Vermonters are being taxed beyond capacity. Act 46 is clearly going to do two things. One is have an administrative structure that’s more sensible where communities can pool resources to get the best outcomes for kids. Secondly it’s going to be more efficient. In the long run that’ll mean less increase on hard working property tax payers.”
The approved plans now go before each district’s voters for approval.
Accelerated mergers are targeted to be operational by July 1, 2017.