School district consolidation landed on Tuesday’s ballot in two different counties with two very different results. Voters in Essex, Essex Junction and Westford decided to combine districts.
Another merger proposal, in Lamoille County, was defeated.
The newly created Essex Westford Educational Community Unified School District is the first merger under Act 46, which offers tax breaks to districts that consolidate governance. Essex Superintendent Mark Andrews predicts 4,000 students in the three towns will now have a more seamless education experience from elementary through high school. Some 875 educators in three towns will now need to collaborate on academic goals and strategies, says Andrews.
“Really getting kids to be the [ones] who are leading their journey with our guidance and it has to be outside of one school house. We have to open up their world to different options; we have 10 schools now.”
And those schools will now be ruled by one board instead of five and managed by one superintendent instead of two. That’s expected to save about a million dollars. School choice will be phased out in Westford, where kids will now have to enroll in Essex High School beginning in 2020, unless they qualify for a limited school choice option.
In Lamoille County, though, voters made a different decision. Town Clerk Sharon Draper says they had to answer a key question.
“What is more important to you, lower taxes or school choice?”
But the answer is not simple. Morristown favored the merger, 251-247, even though taxes may still increase slightly. Elmore residents voted against consolidation, although it would have lowered taxes there. They preserved school choice by a vote of 197-164. So for now at least, those districts will remain separate.
The votes in Chittenden and Lamoille Counties show how divided the state is about consolidation, and may give other communities mulling their options two very different experiments to watch.
Update 9:19 p.m. This story was revised to clarify the differing tax implications in Morristown and Elmore.