By Stacey Peters and Colin Meyn, VTDigger
The education secretary released a long-awaited — and for many anxiety-inducing — report Friday, June 1, recommending which school districts should merge.
Acting Education Secretary Heather Bouchey recommended 18 consolidations, under a mandate written into the school district consolidation law, Act 46. In some cases, the secretary recommends that groups of districts come together, and in other cases, she has asked rural districts to pair up.
A total of 43 districts or groups of districts that filed “Section 9” proposals were included in the report, which is 189 pages long. The recommendations will be reviewed by the state Board of Education, which will release a final plan at the end of November.
Bouchey advised in 22 cases that mergers were ill-advised: In 12 districts she said mergers were not practicable, and in 10 cases, there were legal problems with a potential merger. She made no recommendation in three instances, and will allow those districts to pursue their own Act 46 process.
The recommendations came after a months-long review process of local proposals led by Rebecca Holcombe, Bouchey’s predecessor as education secretary, who held the position through most of the Act 46 rollout and implementation.
After the passage of Act 46 in 2015, school districts were given more than two years to voluntarily merge with nearby districts and present proposals to the state Board of Education.
Districts that did not voluntarily merge were required to evaluate their ability to meet the objectives of Act 46, talk with other districts in the area about how they might accomplish those goals together, and submit to the state board a proposal to merge, or achieve greater efficiency in other ways.
The education secretary’s deadline for a statewide plan was June 1. A sheet sent out before the release of the report made clear that the decisions are not final.
“The State Board of Education will review this proposed plan as the first of many steps, which will ultimately lead to the issuance of the final statewide plan in November,” the agency wrote.
The state board will hold three regional meetings from July to September.
In Rutland County, only Orwell Eementary was recommended for a merger. “Merge the Orwell Elementary School District and the Slate Valley Modified Unified Union School District into a single UUSD by requesting the MUUSD to accept the Orwell District as a full PreK-12 member,” it suggested. All other districts were listed as “merger completed.”
In Windsor County, Barnard Elementary School was recommended to merge. “Merge the Barnard Elementary School District and the Windsor Central Modified Unified Union School District into a single UUSD by requesting the MUUSD to accept the Barnard District as a full PreK-12 member,” it suggested. Additionally Pittsfield, Hartland and Weathersfield were listed as “no merger (not practical)” and Sharon, Strafford and Thetford were listed as “no merger (not legally possible).”