Letter: Act 46 myths require dispelling
In an effort to stay informed about my town and its finances. I have been paying close attention for some time to the merger talks via the paper and local meetings. Over an extended period there has been a good deal of information exchange, some of which involves the misrepresentation of information by those who are pro merger. For example, I continue to see references to "tax incentives" and "tax savings" as an apparent carrot to entice voters.
This is not borne out by Education Board Chair and Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe. These incentives are expected to be used primarily to defray merging costs, according to Secretary Holcombe. As stated at Putney's Act 46 meeting on march 17: "I've got to say I hate the way people use the word incentives, because there is a tremendous amount of work that goes into a transition. I mean there are things you actually have to pay for and do, literally, in terms of lawyer fees and everything else just to close down your old districts and open up your new district."
And Stephan Morse, the chairman of the Vermont Board of Education told the Dummerston Act 46 Study Committee "Some of you entered this process thinking there would be huge financial savings. Most of the approved new districts are looking at annual savings somewhere between $100,000 to $300,000. As it turns out, many of the mergers most immediate savings have already been realized under the current system where the current supervisory unions have already brought things together by coordinating services, bulk purchasing etc."
And while the $100,000 to $300,000 savings sound like a lot, the annual budget for the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union is assessed at $52 million, of which $300,000 is less than half-of-1 percent.
The argument that if you don't merge, the state will make us do it anyway is the most troubling myth I keep hearing. Act46 section 9 clearly states: "Any districts that have not merged may submit an Alternative Governance Structure proposal to the state that meets the goals set out in Act 46.
By law this process is to be completed by district boards and community members working together and not the study committee. Interestingly there is just such a process underway here in Windham Southeast Supervisory Union to put forth an enhanced supervisory union that will meet the goals, which will let us keep control of our schools, improve equity and is more likely to keep taxes in line.
We are not alone in considering this pathway. This same process is ongoing in 62 other districts in Vermont. I find it very troubling when those whom we trust to keep us informed provide misleading information.
Dummerston, Oct. 30
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