On September 11, 2015

Board of Education discusses alternatives structure for school district mergers

By Sarah Olsen, VTDigger.com

A state education official says the state should move toward many fewer supervisory unions under Act 46.

The new state law incentivizes communities to merge local school districts into larger supervisory districts with unified boards from multiple towns.

Bill Talbott, the deputy secretary of the Agency of Education, explained at a meeting of the State Board of Education on Tuesday, Aug. 18, that communities can form supervisory districts with “alternative” structures that include 1,100 students in K-12, or “preferred” districts with 900 students.

Communities that form larger districts before July 1, 2017, have the opportunity to earn the maximum tax incentives possible as well as some grants. Tax incentives for towns that form mergers — between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2019 — are reduced.

The State Board of Education met at the Steakhouse Restaurant in Berlin on Aug. 18, where Bill Talbott, deputy secretary of the Agency of Education, gave the secretary’s report and explained such governance changes on school district mergers.

At the Aug. 18 meeting, Talbott said that there should be as few supervisory unions as possible, according to Act 46. The act calls for the merging of school districts to mitigate declining enrollments for kindergarten through grade 12 students.

The preferred option may not be ideal for every region of the state. For these situations, there is an alternative type of structure, in which a group of districts can create one supervisory union.

“The Legislature recognized that the state board should recognize that we still may have some supervisory unions when you’re done, which is multiple districts organized under one superintendent’s office,” Talbott said.

The main difference between a supervisory union and a supervisory district is that a supervisory district is a group of formerly individual districts that come together to operate as one district, whereas a supervisory union is a group of districts that continue to operate separately but under one superintendent’s office, according to the act.

These will require an average daily membership of 1,000 students, according to the act. The member districts of this supervisory union must also consider themselves to be collectively responsible for the education of all pre-kindergarten through grade 12 students residing within the supervisory union, according to the act.

Talbott said that the act does state that there should be as few of these as is practical.

“So you don’t always have to have everyone weaved into one district,” Talbott said.

Districts planning to become supervisory districts and receive all the tax incentives of the accelerated merger plan, must vote on the proposed plans by July 1, 2016, according to the act.

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