School Districts Across Vermont Could Look Very Different After Town Meeting Day

Mar 3, 2017

Nearly 60 communities will decide whether or not to consolidate their school districts at their upcoming town meetings.

Ten committees studying Act 46, Vermont's school district consolidation law, have had plans recently approved by the Vermont Board of Education. And that means they’re ready for the voters to weigh in on their school district merger proposals.

Plans are varied, and some of them span supervisory unions (SUs), as Donna Russo-Savage from the Agency of Education explains.

"There are 10 separate proposals, they involve 57 different districts and 11 different SUs," she says. "There are four proposals that involve districts from more than one SU. And, in fact, one proposal in the Northeast Kingdom for a pre-K-through-12 non-operating district involves districts from three SUs."

While that proposed district in the Northeast Kingdom would not operate any schools, it would pay tuition for students to attend the schools of their choice outside the district.

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On the opposite end of the spectrum, some plans propose districts that will educate all students in pre-school through twelfth grade within the district.

And there are several plans that fall somewhere in between – operating schools for lower grades and tutioning out students in high school and, in some cases, middle school too.

Andy Shaw is chairman of the Proctor School Board, and he also chairs the Act 46 Study Committee for the Rutland Central and Rutland Southwest Supervisory Unions.

He’s been working on putting together an Act 46 plan since the summer of 2015.

"Ultimately, it meets the needs of the students, which is really what the ultimate goal is, to take care of our kids." — Proctor School Board Chair Andy Shaw

"It’s been a lot of work to this point and it’s a very complex, complicated proposal," he says. "But I think it meets everybody’s needs and, ultimately, it meets the needs of the students – which is really what the ultimate goal is, to take care of our kids."

They’re calling that proposed district Quarry Valley. It includes the pre-K-through-12 schools in Poultney, Proctor and West Rutland.

Adjacent to Poultney are the towns of Wells and Middletown Springs, both of which offer school choice in grades seven through 12. The proposal also bands those two towns together in what’s being called the Wells Springs District.

The two new districts – Quarry Valley and Wells Springs – would be operated as what Act 46 calls side-by-side districts. They are two districts with different governance structures under one umbrella.

But, smack in the middle of all those towns sits the town of Ira. Ira doesn’t fit in either basket because, as Shaw explains, "Ira does not operate a school and they tuition all of their students."

So Ira would remain a stand-alone district under the new plan, as would Rutland Town, which tuitions high schoolers.

If the voters in the Quarry Valley and Wells Springs member towns approve of the merger, the next step would be to ask the state to merge Rutland Central and Rutland South into one supervisory union to oversee the two stand-alone districts and the side-by-side districts.

Likewise, in the Northeast Kingdom, if the plan being put forth by the Caledonia North, Essex Caledonia and Essex North supervisory unions is approved, then those three supervisory unions plan to regroup as two SUs.

So if voters are agreeable on Town Meeting Day, Russo-Savage says that will likely result in fewer supervisory unions statewide.

"If approved, she says, "we anticipate that there would be at least two fewer SUs."

Since this map was created, Waterville has voted to join the Lamoille North Modified Unified Union School District and Cambridge has scheduled a Town Meeting Day vote to join that same district.
Credit Vermont Agency Of Education / Feb. 7, 2017

Not all of the Act 46 proposals are that complicated. But simpler plans are not necessarily easier to pass, either.

Last April, all six towns in the Lamoille North Supervisory Union voted on forming one unified union under Act 46.
 
"Four of our towns voted to come into the Modified Union, two did not," explains Superintendent Catherine Gallagher. "Cambridge was one and Waterville was the other."

Because not all of the towns joined, the unified union was renamed a modified union. But last month Waterville reconsidered, and voted to join the modified union. And on Town Meeting Day, Cambridge will also hold another vote on the matter. If Cambridge votes to join, the new district will include all of the towns in the Lamoille North Supervisory Union, as originally proposed.

Town Meeting Day won’t be the last of consolidation votes this spring. Russo-Savage says some votes are scheduled next month and more are anticipated for May and June.