Dear Faculty, Support Staff, Parents, and Communities:
It has been some time since I updated everyone on the progress associated with our Act 46 Merger activities. After a busy summer of forums, all four of our boards decided to participate in a formal Act 46 Merger Study Committee. So, on September 2nd, 2015, all four boards voted to form a Study Committee. After careful review, the boards also appointed their community members to that committee. The Study Committee has met twice. The first meeting was organizational and procedural. The committee elected Win Townsend (firstname.lastname@example.org) as chair and Anthony French (email@example.com) as vice-chair. Below is a complete list of the Study Committee members, click on their name to send them an Email. They would appreciate hearing from anyone who has an opinion about a merger.
Each town is very respectful of the current operation in each respective town. No one is trying to dominate the conversation. As you know, one of the difficulties of merging our four towns rests in the fact that we have three tuition towns and one town that operates a high school. The State Board decided this summer that they would not accept any proposals for a single-district that both operated a high school and allowed for tuition. For the most part, this would require that our current tuition towns agree to send all of their students to a regional high school and/or Windsor would have to agree to close their high school. Neither of these plans were going to be adopted in a short period of time. So, at the second meeting of the Study Committee on November 18th, 2015, the Study Committee voted to abandon any Accelerated Plans. While letting go of the Accelerated incentives was not easy, the committee felt that more time would produce a better outcome for all four towns.
So, with this decision, the Study Committee has at least another year to develop a proposal to bring to vote by our towns. A proposal has to be adopted by July 1st 2017 or we lose any access to incentives and the financial consequences go well beyond that. We lose the small schools grant; we lose the merger grant; we are held to the allowable growth cap; and we lose our equalized pupil hold-harmless provision. This last one is important. Our taxes are affected by the number of students that the state allows us to count. Right now, our schools, much like all Vermont schools, are losing students. The reason is simply, there are just fewer children -- our families are smaller than they used to be. Right now, we have a hold-harmless provision that protects the decrease in student number by about 3%. So, the state allows us to carry more students "on the books" then we really have in our schools. This has been fondly called the "Ghost Student" issue. Any school district that does not develop a plan by July 1st, 2017, risks losing that provision and has to go by the real student number. We did some quick calculations recently and figured that a loss of this provision to a town could result in as much as a 10 cent tax increase. And this would be year after year.
So, the Study Committee understands the consequences, but they also understand that any decision for merger is going to set a new path for our children for years to come. So, it is a very delicate balance. I would expect that the committee will be sponsoring at least one more community forum in each town. This would lay out the limited options and seek public input. The committee also voted to apply for a special grant that will allow them to hire a consultant to facilitate the work. These consultants are very knowledgeable about the law and the opportunities that are available. We hope to have the consultant on-board by January.
I appreciate the work this committee has done and I appreciate the patience that our four towns have shown as we look to the best future for our children. This is a great place to live, work and play. We have done a lot of work together as four towns and the boards are committed to staying the course as long as we can.
Please visit the web site and click on Act 46. Under the study committee link you will find all kinds of information, including the agendas and minutes for the Study Committee. And please do not hesitate to call or email me at any time. I wish you and all of your families a very Happy Thanksgiving. We certainly do have a lot to be thankful for.
Superintendent of Schools
Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union
Study Committee Members: