CHESTER, Vt. – For the almost twenty years Vermont has seen a decrease in student population and the number of staff has remained approximately the same. The cost of education per student has rapidly increased to where it has placed Vermont at one of the highest in the nation, resulting in voter concern and local schools working to reduce the cost. The hope is that by creating larger school districts the increasing cost-per-student can be addressed. Therefore, in June 2015 the Legislature passed Act 46, which states that school districts need to come together in order to achieve the following:
“Substantial equity in the quality and variety of educational opportunities. Lead students to achieve or exceed the state’s education quality standards. Maximize operational efficiencies through increased flexibility to manage, share and transfer resources, with the goals of increasing the district-level ration of students to full-time equivalent staff. Promote transparency and accountability. Deliver education at a cost that parents, voters and tax payers value.”
The state Board of Education gave the local regions time to come together and plow a pathway that would achieve the goals; upon achieving the goals by a specific time frame, the districts will receive incentives. Negatively, if by November 2018, regions haven’t developed their approach, the board will order unification with no tax incentives.
At a recent meeting held in the Chester-Andover Elementary School, the subcommittee that had been given permission to pursue a Regional Educational District (RED) in January, presented the report it had developed to the Twin River Supervisory Union Act 46 study committee for its approval, in hopes that it would vote yes in allowing the report to be sent to the Board of Education.
At the beginning of the subcommittee meeting, consultant Steve Dale shared the results of the conversations he had with the Agency of Education about defining the meaning of a RED, and if the group that was formed would still qualify and receive the tax incentives even though Ludlow and Mount Holly have decided to pursue other options at this time. The Board of Education was concerned that any report presented will isolate any school but said that the unification of Chester, Andover, Cavendish and Baltimore would still be classified as a RED.
While reviewing the report, there was concern from the committee members about the individual school funds held in reserve and how those funds would be handled once the schools became a Unified District. Any reserved funds will go to the RED but will still be restricted for usage as they were previously determined before the unification.
After the subcommittee reviewed the report and made any changes, they voted to present the report to the Act 46 study committee in the next hour of the meeting.
During the following hour Ludlow and Mount Holly gave a quick update on their progress. Members of their subcommittee have been given the tasks of gathering information to bring back to the committee for deliberation. The towns are stilling working on the best, reasonable direction; some options included joining Mill River or Quarry Valley. However, all the pros and cons of those options have yet to be delved into by the committee.
Written in Article 17 of the report was an invitational paragraph to other school districts, which are looking to improve education quality and equity, to join this Unified District, giving Ludlow and Mount Holly the option to establish a connection in the future if they cannot find a better alternative for their school districts.
The crescendo of the night’s meeting was the study committee voting in favor of submitting the subcommittee’s report to the Board of Education.
The next step for the committee is to submit the report to the Board of Education by March 1; the board will review the document and speak to committee members on March 21. After the Board of Education votes on the report there will be public information meetings in every town before the towns’ estimated vote date on either May 2 or 9.
The Act 46 study committee, which has been working diligently on solving the goals presented to them by the Board of Education, will continue to exist until 45 days after the town’s vote.