We want to keep all four of our communities updated on the recent legislation, Act 46, which provides strong incentives for any supervisory union that decides to merge into a single district. The school board chairs from all four school districts in our supervisory union had a meeting with state officials on June 15th. Needless to say we had lots of questions about the new law. Our school boards know that this law requires districts with less than 900 students to merge by 2018. In fact, if the districts do not merge by that date, then the Secretary of Education is directed to submit a plan to the state board placing those isolated districts with another merged district. Our school boards do not want to wait until they are placed somewhere. They want to control their own destiny. So, we made the trip to Montpelier to find out what our requirements for merger would be.
Here are some of the basic facts that we learned:
- We can only consider a merger under the accelerated adoption section of the law if we act as a Supervisory Union. In other words we have to merge as a Supervisory Union or the whole Supervisory Union has to merge with another supervisory union – one or two of our districts cannot go off alone in the early adoption phase;
- If we merge as a Supervisory Union, all of our students have to have the same treatment with respect to choice. In other words, if we offer high school choice, then all of our students in all four towns have to have high school choice;
- A merger requires that the school board merge into one board and the budget is merged into one budget. We did find out that we can set the proportional make-up of the board as long as the membership of that board does not exceed 18;
- We can only merge under the accelerated adoption phase if we have completed a RED study (Regional Educational District study). We DID complete a RED study in 2013 that concluded our four towns were not ready to merge because if they did all students would have to go to one high school. That study did conclude that if choice could be an option we would consider a merger;
- We learned that if we merge we would be exempt from the variable spending cap and we would be eligible for all the early tax and financial incentives;
- Finally, we learned that we have some control over the way we write our Articles of Agreement should we merge. For example, we could make it part of our merger agreement that NO school would close without a future Australian Ballot of the voters in that town. We could also have an article that states that the agreed upon choice options for the new district cannot change without a future Australian Ballot of the voters in the town affected.
After the meeting, the board chairs were convinced that it was in our best interest to pursue an early merger option. The boards are well aware that it will take a successful Australian Ballot vote in all four towns in order for this to happen. If one town votes this down, then no town can move ahead. The vote has to occur before June 20, 2016. This means we have to decide on a proposal and we have to vote next spring.
It is important that we all understand our current options. Therefore the school boards in all four towns have set up a schedule for Focus Forums in each town. The schedule is below. We know that summer is busy so we set two in each town. It is also completely fine if you attend a forum in another town. The information will all be the same. We want to get good feedback from as many of our residents as possible.
This legislation is an opportunity to continue the cooperative work we began over five years ago when the decision to move to a single superintendent was adopted. And, it gives us that opportunity under our control in the early stages of this process. After 2018 there are no guarantees. It is also important to note that we only have access to the tax incentives in the early adoption phases. As one board member put it, “Do we want to be paying other towns incentives who do adopt, or do we want to be collecting those incentives over the early years. The choice is ours.
Under the legislation, the options are limited – but for the first time CHOICE is an option. We don’t have to give up all of our choice in order to merge. This is a milestone change by the legislature. But all four towns have to agree on the grades that will be offered choice. This is why your voice is so important in the next couple of months. Let us come together and get the information and be heard.
We will be keeping the community up-to-date via our website. In fact, we have created a special section of our website dedicated to Act 46 where you can see this letter, the community forum schedule, frequently asked questions (coming soon), and much more as new information is learned and presented at act46.wsesu.net.
Finally, we want you to be on the lookout for a survey that will be very short – maybe two or three questions. This may give some folks who cannot attend a forum an opportunity to weigh in on the decisions. We will continue to update our communities as the summer goes on.
Thank you for your consideration and we hope you attend one of the forums listed below.
David W. Baker
Schedule of Forums:
July 20th - Windsor 6:30PM, Room 210 Windsor School District
July 22nd - Weathersfield 6:30PM, Weathersfield School
July 27th - West Windsor 6:30PM, Town Hall
August 3rd - Windsor 6:30PM, Room 210 Windsor School District
August 10th - Weathersfield 6:30PM, Weathersfield School
August 11th - Hartland 6:30PM, Hartland School Library
August 17th - Hartland 6:30PM, Hartland School Library
August 26th - West Windsor 6:30PM, Town Hall