Act 46: What to do without Vernon?


BRATTLEBORO >> With Vernon backing out of the Act 46 Study Committee, officials are wondering what's next.

"Yesterday, a request was made to the Agency of Education for the official opinion regarding how the Vernon School Board's actions affect the Study Committee," Alice Laughlin, committee chairwoman, said Thursday.

The committee was formed with representation from all school boards within the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union. The Vernon School Board members' concerns had to do with the way a potential vote on forming a single school district could form a different type of district if voters said no.

Vernon School Board Chairman Mike Hebert worried the "two-tiered" system of voting offered "no exit or reset" for Vernon.

"We feel it should be a single question," he said following Monday's meeting where the board voted to leave the study committee. "We would like to have the authority to reset the process so we can look at all the options and prospects."

Vernon is the only the school within the supervisory union with school choice after elementary school.

Committee consensus was reached Wednesday for sending a draft report to the agency for review, Laughlin said.

"Once we receive that opinion, the thought is that the Study Committee will vote on the final report, if appropriate," said Laughlin.

The committee expects this would happen at the next meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Academy School.

The "accelerated merger," according to the law, would see an existing supervisory union's school districts merging to form one. The other district mentioned in talk of the potential vote would be a modified-union district.

After news hit about Vernon's leaving the committee, Brattleboro Town School Board member David Schoales summed it as "the result of a poorly thought-out law." He worried that tax incentives associated with moving faster toward mergers was making things more difficult rather than helping.

"It just takes a lot more time and a lot more thought," Schoales said, adding that the WSESU has a complex make-up and successful outcomes. "We have a k-6, k-8, town with choice and a high level of poverty."

He noted the efficiency in which the supervisory union operates.

Schoales was under the impression that without Vernon, the 10 cent tax reduction for every $100 of assessed value available to homestead taxpayers in the first year of an accelerated merger would no longer be possible. The tax break reduces by 2 cents each year after and is available with other options.

Schoales said criticism and concerns had come from people who felt left out of the process.

"They felt they were not given the opportunity to participate," he said. "If that's the thing you're hearing over and over again then it's something you should respond to. But we'll see. It's an interesting process."

His comments echoed Hebert's.

"To us, there is no harm with taking the time to give this new consideration and really be sure it's in the best interest of the schools in the district," Hebert said. "Once you're into this new process, you're in. There's really no off-ramp. We're very concerned with what we finalize."

Contact Chris Mays at or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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