By Amy Ash Nixon, VTDigger.org
As a bill that requires larger school systems works its way through the Legislature, a group of House lawmakers has formed a Small and Rural Schools Caucus to focus on issues that could affect their districts. The group has met three times in recent weeks, said Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-West Dover, who organized the caucus.
A bill crafted by the House Education Committee, H. 361, aims to reduce the number of school districts statewide by requiring larger pre-kindergarten-to-grade-12 school systems of at least 1,100 pupils, but does not call for the closing of small schools.
Small schools are defined by the Vermont Agency of Education as having fewer than 100 students. There are 55 districts with fewer than 100 students, said Jill Remick, spokeswoman for the Vermont Agency of Education.
The Agency of Education has published a color-coded map that shows where partnerships between school districts make the most sense. Sibilia calls it “The map of pain.”
Meeting with Sibilia recently were Rep. Emily Long, D-Newfane, a member of the House Education Committee; Rep. Charles “Chip” Conquest, D-Wells River; and Rep. Constance Quimby, R-Concord. Other representatives have also been involved, Sibilia said.
Conquest said for schools in rural areas, “Our first reaction is, ‘I’m not putting my kid on a bus for 45 minutes to an hour.’”
But sharing resources makes sense across larger systems, he added. “If we had a larger unit, we could more effectively use the resources, the teachers,” particularly for specialized programs such as art and music, as well as physical and occupational therapy for students in need, he said.