Windham Southwest Supervisory Union slows down merger process

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WILMINGTON >> Windham Southwest Supervisory Union officials are tapping the brakes before submitting a proposal for a district merger.

"We're going to slow down a little," Superintendent Chris Pratt said Monday. "I want to tweak the report that goes along with it. We weren't going to get it in on time for June like we wanted."

Due to the Vermont Board of Education's stacked schedule for reviewing other proposals being submitted to comply with Act 46, the education law requiring school-district consolidation statewide, Pratt said he was not sure his supervisory union's plan would get heard at the BOE's June meeting.

Once a month, the board goes through articles of agreement sent by different supervisory unions.

"They were reluctant to say they would even be able to see us," said Pratt.

Now, Pratt said the WSSU will wait until July or the beginning of August to submit the documents. If approved then, he hopes the towns can vote via election ballots in November.

All the WSSU schools are included in the proposal. Searsburg, which does not operate a school, is making plans to study a merger with Stratton, a district in the Windham Central Supervisory Union.

If Wilmington and Whitingham, the districts that make up the Twin Valley school system, vote it down then the merger would not happen. One of the other three districts — Halifax, Stamford and Readsboro — could vote no and the merger would still pass.

Subcommittees appointed by the school boards have already approved the articles of agreement, Pratt said.

"But right now, I'm just dotting my i's and crossing all the t's," he said. "I'm working with the lawyers to make sure the report follows in line with the articles."

The schools would "pretty much be able to operate in the same way" they currently do, Pratt said. The k-8 schools of Halifax, Stamford and Readsboro would all fall under one budget and board.

Students at those schools have choice after elementary school. That would remain intact with the merger.

Twin Valley would form its own school district, not dissimilar to what is now in place.

"Right now, Twin Valley has a joint district. It means they're living together but not married," said Pratt. "Now, they've been living together so long that when they get married, what's yours is theirs, what's theirs is yours."

The issue for Whitingham residents has to do with the former Twin Valley High School. The facility is located in Wilmington and the Wilmington School District is attempting to divest itself of the property. A private developer has shown interest and a request for proposals went out to ensure fairness with the sale of the building.

But taxpayers in Whitingham would be better off voting for the merger, according to Pratt. A 5 percent tax will be imposed on districts in supervisory unions that have not come up with a proposal for consolidation.

And if the merger fails, the districts' taxpayers will not get tax incentives associated with Act 46. Those districts could still get 8 cent, 6 cent, 4 cent and 2 cent reductions off every assessed $100 of property in their tax bills over the next four years. The first-year 10-cent reduction is no longer available.

The cost of holding onto the building would be less than denying the merger, Pratt said. His supervisory union's proposal is considered to fall under the related school-governance law Act 156 due to the targeted minimal average daily membership being below Act 46's goal of 900 students.

If the merger isn't approved by voters, Pratt said the Agency of Education is "probably going to tell us what the school boards are asking communities to do anyway."

"There's very little options in this area. That's why we chose Act 156," he said.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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