Act 46: Winhall to look at district merger
WINHALL — A study committee, which would look at a school district merger under the education law Act 46, might lead to Winhall joining forces with Stratton, Sandgate and Searsburg.
Currently, the four districts are in different supervisory unions. But each offers school choice.
"You're kind of the league here," Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union Assistant Superintendent Jackie Wilson told the Winhall School Board at a meeting Tuesday.
Winhall would have 64 percent of the student population if a district merger is approved, Wilson said. Searsburg was not included in her calculation.
The Winhall School District, which became part of the BRSU in 2013, does not run its own public school. It has a three-person school board. Many of its kids along with Stratton's go to the independent Mountain School in Winhall. Both towns' students are guaranteed admission to the school, where pre-k through eighth grade classes are offered.
The Winhall district has about 145 students. Many Winhall students go to Burr and Burton Academy.
The Sandgate School District, part of the Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union, does not operate a public school. The School Board has three members. Approximately 28 students in the k-12 district are offered school choice. Most of them attend Fisher Elementary and Arlington Memorial Middle/High School.
Stratton also has three School Board members. The district has approximately 20 to 30 students and school choice.
Searsburg has approximately 20 to 25 students and five School Board members. It is part of the Windham Southwest Supervisory Union. The small size of the district was noted by Wilson and Winhall School Board Chairman Marty Nadler during the meeting.
If the districts cannot come to a consensus on committee make-up, Wilson said a joint board meeting could be held. But the prospect of Searsburg joining the district might change the conversation.
If three districts are to study a merger, the committee likely will have three members from Winhall, two from Sandgate and one from Stratton. If four districts are included in the study, Winhall likely will have four and Sandgate would have two, and Stratton and Searsburg would each have one.
"I don't want anyone to feel Winhall is overwhelming the committee," Nadler said. "Although officially it's the way it should be, it's not the way it should be."
He recalled consulting in Bennington, where there were "fractional votes" since Bennington school officials "insisted" on having the number match the per-pupil designation set out in guidelines for navigating district mergers.
"It just left a bitter taste in everyone's mouth," he said.
A six or eight-person committee "will be very doable," Wilson said. If the other school boards agree, then a meeting will be scheduled.
Winhall will be creating a list of names to rank who would be best to join the committee, Nadler said, adding that he wants to see the committee get started in July.
The Winhall board will meet again on June 21.
"We'll look at making a decision about committee members," said Wilson, noting that discussions could then start regarding whether to apply for a grant to obtain services through a consultant.
Nadler said he was not sure a consultant would be necessary as this type of district merger may be easier to facilitate than others. Outside assistance for the technical side of things, such as drafting a proposal for the Vermont Board of Education, might be needed, according to Wilson.
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