By Lani Duke
School districts look to future
Education reform law Act 46 with its tax incentives has gained the support of Addison-Rutland Supervisory Union school board members, who plan to lobby for an accelerated merger by fall 2017. Citing the financial gain, ARSU superintendent Ron Ryan said he views merger as a “logical next step.”
Proponents say that forming districts with a minimum of 900 pupils creates economies of scale and offers students more opportunity while threatening districts who do not merge with forced restructuring. At an enrollment of approximately 1,300, ARSU already passes the minimum enrollment threshold and is also well on the way to centralizing contracts, services and curriculum.
In an informal vote, ARSU board members agreed to gather local board members in early August with the intent of setting up a merger study committee.
To get the tax breaks, a district’s member towns must all approve the new district before July 1, 2016, and have it operational within a year. Merged districts have a second chance at the tax break “gold ring” if they are operational by July 1, 2019.
The sooner a district completes the merger, the more money it saves. Those who have completed the process by 2017 receive five years of tax breaks, the first year at 10 cents off the base homestead rate, 8 cents the following year, followed by 6, 4, and two in succeeding years. Those who are slower may receive four years of tax breaks, on the same descending scale, but starting an an 8 cent savings per year. However, if a district that has not completed merging by 2017, the town tax rate cannot be decreased more than 5 percent. Districts that delay thus lose tax reduction without any benefits to offset that loss.
State Agency of Education officials estimate that only five or six districts will begin work on accelerated mergers right away. Many are not eligible for the accelerated option, including Rutland Central Supervisory Union and Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, which must utilize the extended timeline.
While the RCSU board has not yet met to plan a strategy, each local board in RNSU has voted to enter a study community, with the possibility of merging some districts internally while retaining a supervisory union structure (the new law also accepts this approach and allots reduced tax breaks for this approach too). Lawmakers made an effort to be relatively non-disruptive while the law goes into effect. There is no effort to encourage or require school closures, regardless of size. School districts’ authority to continue to pay tuition is neither restricted nor repealed, nor does the law change the amount or manner used for a district to pay student tuition.
News from Tinmouth
TINMOUTH—The Tinmouth School Board is studying the health effects of wifi in school. It has begun with EMR Safety Consulting testing current levels. The FCC conducted limited testing on the health effects of cell phone use during the 1990s, according to Tinmouth emergency coordinator Michael Fannin.
Maureen Fitzgerald-Riker takes over the leadership of 50-student Tinmouth Elementary School as the new school year begins. Previous principal Daryl Houk has taken a position with Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union.
Turkey spotters wanted!
The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department is asking for help in measuring spring wild turkey production by asking individuals to report the turkeys they see during the month of August. Why is reporting turkeys important? The numbers provide a basis for calculating average brood size, percentage of hens with young, and overall numbers to better manage the wild turkey population.
Requested information includes the number of turkeys seen and in which town, the sex and age of the birds if possible to determine, groups of adult hens with young, or adult hens without young.
How can you tell if the turkeys are this year’s brood? Young turkeys in August are about two-thirds the size of adult hens.
How do you report? The Department provides an online survey at http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/get_involved/citizen_reporting/wild_turkey_brood_survey.