Windham Central Supervisory Union schools to commit to Act 46 study
TOWNSHEND >> Strides toward complying with the education law Act 46 were made Monday night.
Studying the structural model where 10 districts in the Windham Central Supervisory Union would be kept the same way they currently operate was supported by only one person, Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School Board member Howard Ires. Other board members supported looking into a side-by-side model.
Four side-by-side union districts could see Leland & Gray creating a single pre-k-to-12th grade district, Dover and Wardsboro developing their own district, and Marlboro and Stratton joining neighbors outside the supervisory union.
"It is clear that you want to respect the tuitioning options people have had," said consultant Steven Dale, referring to Dover, Wardsboro and Marlboro, which offer students school choice for the higher grades. "It's protected by the law but its clear that's a value that underlies your whole effort."
A formal vote by the WCSU Board, expected to take place on May 11, will determine whether a study committee is created.
During a WCSU Executive Committee meeting Monday, Dale said he hoped to get "an emerging direction" on where to go to address the law, which mandates district consolidation around the state.
Leland & Gray Union High School Board member Emily Long said there is continued support for keeping the Leland & Gray district in "one form or another."
That district is bound to a legal agreement and Jamaica school officials have been exploring whether to get out of it in order to offer students school choice for high school and middle school. All five member towns of the union district would need to agree on allowing Jamaica to leave, Dale said. Also needed would be approval from the Vermont Board of Education.
Marlboro school officials were unsure of whether the district would get in on a different supervisory union's new-districting efforts. The school, which stands out due to its pre-k-to-8th grade structure, could join a district with towns from the Southeast or Southwest supervisory unions.
Although Brookline-Newfane Joint Board Chairman Ken McFadden worried a new district could negatively affect Brookline and Newfane, he supported a study. Dale said protections for schools could be arranged during the process.
"Our board voted to move forward with the side-by-model," said Dover School Board member Laura Sibilia.
"We felt we wanted to make a statement that we wanted to move forward," added Dover School Board Chairman Rich Werner, who is also the WCSU Board chairman.
Windham Central Chief Financial Officer Bud DeBonis presented graphs showing how homestead tax rates in each town would increase over the next six years. Calculations included 2 percent increases in education spending costs, 2 percent decreases in student enrollments, and estimates on inflation.
Districts going through Act 46's "conventional merger" would get four years of tax breaks that would reduce by 2 cents each year. Towns in merged districts would start with a 10-cent break on every $100 of assessed property and then it would drop to 8 cents, 6 cents, 4 cents, and 2 cents.
According to the state's Agency of Education, conventional mergers are designed to create incentives for existing supervisory unions by merging into single supervisory districts while still meeting the goals of the law.
Districts would not lose small schools grants and would not be penalized for not achieving the average daily membership goal of the law, which is 900 students.
Those incentives would not be available for districts that do not change their governance structures and become part of a structure decided by the state.
An imposed structure would be slightly cheaper for Jamaica than making a change of its own volition, according to the projections, and Newfane would see only slight increases in that scenario. Still — as with Dover, Townshend, Wardsboro and Windham, where increases were anticipated to be significantly sharper — the best plan appeared to be with going with the conventional merger.
"Brookline is a bit of an outlier," DeBonis said, noting taxes would be higher if a merger was imposed by the state Board of Education rather than developed by the existing district. That's what is expected if districts do not move on their own by 2019.
The numbers could change due to each town receiving a new common level of appraisal each year which affects the school's tax rate, DeBonis pointed out. This has to do with the way properties are assessed for fair market value.
"There are a lot of variables," DeBonis said while acknowledging that those figures could change drastically if several children move into a district in one year.
Dale said the "global criteria" for a committee assessing an acceptable plan for structural change would look at the social and economic well-being of the region and whether it added to the attractiveness of the area. But also the committee will have to consider whether the plan achieves Act 46's educational and financial goals of "equity, quality and sustainability."
"We don't want this to be about cannibalizing each other," Dale said.
Contact Chris Mays at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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