Scott and Holcomb: More work must be done to reduce the costs of overhead so we can invest in academics
Vermont Business Magazine Vermont voters across the state gave their approval to a majority of school district merger proposals offered during Town Meeting Day 2017. All told, six of the 10 proposals received voter approval. Voters in 40 school districts across 10 supervisory unions gave their approval to merge into larger school districts.
Governor Phil Scott and Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe issued the following statement after school districts in Windsor, Windham, Caledonia, Essex, Bennington, Rutland and Addison Counties voted to consolidate district governance on Town Meeting Day.
“We are proud of these communities and their school boards for their hard work, charting a course that will lead to a higher quality, more affordable and more equitable education system. These larger districts will be able to provide more stability, support and affordability for schools and tax payers. If the votes are not changed on reconsideration, voters in 38 towns in seven supervisory unions voted this week to merge 37 school districts to create six new unified districts. Voters in three additional districts approved a merger, although this merger will not go forward because it was contingent on a successful second merger in some neighboring districts where the vote failed. With these latest votes, 96 towns representing 21 supervisory unions, have voted to merge 104 school districts into 16 unified union school districts and four modified unified union school districts since Act 46 was enacted. The fact remains, however, that much more work must be done to reduce the costs of overhead and infrastructure so we can invest more in academics, early care and education and higher education in our state.
“The mergers approved on Town Meeting Day include one district that pays tuition for all students in PK-12; two districts that operate schools through grade eight and tuition older students; and three districts that operate schools for all grades. Not only will this provide flexibility to enhance educational quality, but it will reduce administrative costs and allow our systems to focus on improving learning and increasing options for our children. After this week’s votes, 57 percent of all students live, or will soon live, in a unified district.
“Act 46 has inspired conversations in communities around the state about how to support quality education for all children, in a more affordable way that directs more funds to educating students, versus overhead costs. This is hard work, and long overdue. Vermont has about 24,000 fewer students than we did 20 years ago. Two out of every three homes in Vermont have no school-age children in them. Just as some families move into new homes when their children move out so they can maintain the same quality at a lower cost, so too do some of our communities need to provide a better and more affordable ‘home’ for their children's education. Unified systems are having powerful conversations about how to manage staffing levels and infrastructure more efficiently, structure themselves to get more value out of every dollar, and expand choices and opportunities for the children they serve.
“We thank communities for the hard work they are devoting to imagining a strong, quality education future for our children. We also know that by being disciplined in grades K-12, we can free state dollars to support children in early care and learning, as well as post-secondary programs. This will create a cradle-to-career continuum of learning that supports our children, teachers and workforce – and that is the very best in the country. Investing in a cradle-to-career system is critical to making Vermont an education destination and to growing our economy, reducing the demand for social services and creating greater opportunities for all Vermonters."
“The types of changes and opportunities contemplated by Act 46 require that school board members navigate some of the most challenging and significant issues facing public education today,” said Nicole Mace, executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association. “As you can see by yesterday’s historic results, Vermont’s school board members have risen to the challenges posed by declining enrollment, rising costs, leadership turnover, and growing inequity in student opportunity, and are charting a positive course forward for public education in Vermont. This course builds upon our strengths but recognizes that preserving the status quo is not in the best interests of the students and communities we serve.”
The successful merger votes include:
- Addison-Rutland (Slate Valley);
- Bennington-Rutland (Taconic & Green);
- Cal North & Essex-Cal (Kingdom East);
- Cal North, Essex-Cal & Essex North non-op (NEK Choice);
- Windham Central K-12 (West River);
- Windsor Central.
Voters in 13 districts voted against merging, resulting in failed merger proposals in:
- Rutland Central & Rutland Southwest K-6 (Wells Springs);
- Windham Central K-6 (River Valley);
- Windham Northeast.
While voters in Rutland Central & Rutland Southwest K-12 (Quarry Valley) approved their merger proposal, the merger will not occur because Rutland Central & Rutland Southwest K-6 (Wells Springs) defeated their proposal.
In many places, voters approved merger proposals by wide margins, including:
- Cal North & Essex-Cal (Kingdom East) 973-337 (74 percent)
- Bennington-Rutland (Taconic & Green) 1,596-540 (75 percent)
- Windsor Central 900-296 (75 percent)
All told, 43 districts will be reduced to 12 districts, six of which will be union school districts.
“In most communities, work by local officials to understand and confront the challenges facing schools and taxpayers leads to support for unification,” said Jeff Francis, executive director of the Vermont Superintendents Association. “I am impressed both by these vote results and the sentiment behind it – which is creating better opportunity for students and greater affordability for taxpayers.”
Source: Vermont School Boards Association and Vermont Superintendents Association. Governor Scott. 3.8.2017