Tuesday morning, a group of top lawmakers and education officials gathered in Essex to congratulate each other on the first school district merger under Vermont’s new school consolidation law, Act 46.
The law was designed to encourage small school districts to merge and bring down per-student costs to reduce pressure on property taxes, but critics say it strips local communities of a say in decisions about their childrens’ education.
After a Nov. 3 vote, Essex, Essex Junction and Westford became the first communities to merge their school districts.
The new law offers property tax incentives for communities that make the decision to consolidate before July 1, 2016.
Because Essex is the first merger under the new law, officials and politicians can only guess about the educational outcomes of these mergers.
Even as everyone at the podium Tuesday congratulated everyone else at the podium on the success of the new law, they also agreed that it can be improved.
There have already been challenges with the law. Some school districts have questions about how Act 46 affects school choice. The state Board of Education may not have the staffing it needs to implement the law. Plus, a limit on school spending increases has drawn criticism for being too stringent.
The new consolidated district was the major focus of the news conference, but Essex, Essex Junction and Westford weren't the only towns to vote on a merger last week.