From the Act:
Enacted in 2015, Act 46 is essentially a supervisory union consolidation law and has a planned multiphase rollout in applying for approval of consolidation plans, with accelerated mergers approved by July 1, 2016 and conventional mergers to be approved by July 1, 2017. In an effort to address a declining K-12 student population and to propel Vermont’s 270 plus existing school districts to merge into larger entities, approved accelerated mergers come with a decreased property tax rate for five years, while conventional mergers will receive a four-year decreased tax rate.
From the news:
According to the VTDigger (August 14, 2016), “…in the first year of the district consolidation plan, 55 towns have voted to merge, and in 40 of those towns, voters overwhelmingly approved district unification plans. Since last summer, 15 towns have rejected merger proposals.”
In preparation for the November 2016 election cycle, the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Consolidation Committee’s unification plan was approved by the State Board of Education (VTDigger, September 21, 2016). According to the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union’s Facebook page, a merger vote was passed by all five affected towns—Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro—on November 8, 2016. Also during the November 8, 2016 election cycle, Grand Isle County residents—Grand Isle, Isle La Motte, and South Hero—voted to unify into Champlain Islands Unified Union School District. Conversely, Barre Town and Barre City voted down a merger (VTDigger November 9, 2016). In southwestern Vermont the Northshire Merger Study Committee, “unanimously voted on November 14, 2016 that the merger of the Danby, Dorset, Manchester, Mountain Towns RED, Mt. Tabor, and Sunderland School Districts, as well as Union District #23 which operates the Currier Memorial School is advisable.” A merger report will be sent to the State Board of Education by November 22, 2016.
One widely discussed byproduct of Act 46 and school mergers is that School Choice, a longtime Vermont mainstay, can be affected by merger decisions. Historically, if a town doesn’t have a public school then tuition dollars may follow k-12 students to independent schools. According to the Ethan Allen Institute report of 2013, “There are currently 93 ‘tuition’ towns in Vermont (out of 258), which allow for choice at some level: elementary, middle, high school or a combination of the three.” As towns debate merger opportunities, independent schools could be affected if mergers include the addition of a public school (such as a high school) where there once was none.
Act 46 may impact small town Vermont cultural and family literacy practices, school choice, town schools, and local control.