On February 11, 2016

RSSU, Shrewsbury forego tax incentives for local control over schools

By Christopher Biddle

SHREWSBURY — The Shrewsbury School Board and members of the community gathered at the Shrewsbury Mountain School on Thursday, Feb. 4, for an informational presentation by Rutland South Supervisory Union (RSSU) Superintendent David Younce regarding Act 46. Younce told the audience of about 20 that RSSU will default to stipulations put forth by Act 153, and will form a new “Unified District.”

Act 46 encourages school districts in Vermont to consolidate by the year 2018. It allows for districts to abide by stipulations put forth by Act 153, which provided tax incentives for consolidation but didn’t make it a requirement. Since RSSU’s total student body falls short of the 900 required by Act 46, it will default to Act 153 and forego one year of tax incentives.

“We are proceeding with this because we want to be masters of our own destiny,”  Shrewsbury Mountain School Board member Andy Richards-Peele told The Mountain Times. He added that if RSSU were to sit idle they would lose Small School grants, as well as protection from phantom students, a system that prevents schools from losing more than 3.5 percent income as the result of lower enrollments.

Richards-Peele said that a key component of the decisionmaking was the ability of the RSSU to write its own article of incorporation, which stipulates that a town school board must unanimously approve a school’s closing before it goes to approval by the larger district. Richards-Peele said that as a “further safeguard to prevent the arbitrary closing of a school,” the RSSU has made it “practically impossible” for a new school board to amend the article when it comes to school-closings.

With the advent of the new supervisory union, property taxes in Shrewsbury would increase to $1.36 for fiscal year 2017, which works out to an additional $77.82 for a home valued at $200 thousand.

Despite tax increases, Shrewsbury residents and school board officials seem pleased with how their disctrict has received Act 46.

“For this community it’s not that big a of a step to a unified district,” said Richards-Peele. “The supervisory union in the last several years has made several steps to unify the bus services, special education services…the teachers’ contracts for all four town elementary schools are now under one contract, so a lot of the steps necessary for unification, we’ve already done. The step [to become a unified district] is relatively easy, and it allows us to continue to determine the direction in which we want our schools to head, and that’s really why we’re doing it.”

“The Committee has done a terrific job of coming up with a plan that works best for Shrewsbury and the adjoining towns,” said Jonathon Gibson. “If the voters want to control the future of their local education, it’s very important that they vote yes on this proposal.”

RSSU will hold informational meetings for the public on Feb. 9 and 23 at Wallingford Elementary. A video of Younce’s presentation is available on the RSSU website.

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