BENNINGTON - A final report prepared by consultants of a committee that recently decided consolidating up to eight school districts into one was not advisable is nearly complete, which will mark the end of the most recent effort of consolidation.

The report must be signed by all members of the committee, which included representatives from school districts of Bennington, North Bennington, Pownal, Shaftsbury, and Woodford from Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union as well as Arlington and Sandgate from Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union. It will then be submitted to the state, at which point the year-long study into forming a regional educational district \

As outlined in Act 153, which encouraged multiple districts to form REDs, the participating districts will be reimbursed the full expense of the study because it came in less than $20,000, consultant Martin Nadler said Monday.

The estimated total spent, most of which paid for the services of Nadler and consultant Donna Moyer, is approximately $15,000. The committee raised a budget of $25,000, but after meeting with consultants for 10 months the group decided there were too many obstacles to recommend voters approve the formation of a consolidated K-12 district.

Members said following the final meeting in June that many positive conversations took place and the time was well spent because it opened communication between districts. Although, discussions could not change the hurdle that has been in place for as long as consolidation has been discussed - which some say has been more than two decades - that districts wish to retain their independence.

The study also prompted discussion of future collaboration between the two supervisory unions, although the extent of that collaboration is being debated.

The draft of the final report, which was distributed to members last month, says members agreed a benefit of forming a single district would be middle and high school choice between Mount Anthony Union and Arlington.

"Of great significance, they recognized the value of increasing the school choice options between Mount Anthony and Arlington high schools and are using this recognition as a 'launching pad' for discussion in both SUs (supervisory unions) of a merger of SUs in order to create a two-high school (and possibly two-middle school) SU with choice between the two," the report states.

Some members of the committee have agreed that statement is accurate, although Arlington Chairman Todd Wilkins, who attended the final RED committee meeting in place of George Carpenter, has said his personal desire and that of the BVSU board to remain its own supervisory union has not changed.

"I do not support discussions at this point for a merger. I will completely support future discussions about school choice though," Wilkins said Wednesday, adding that school choice is what he remembers agreeing to discuss with SVSU in the future.

At an Arlington School District meeting June 27, members of that board also said they do not support discussions about merging the supervisory unions (even though BVSU is currently doing that through a mandate from the state).

Following that meeting Carpenter called Nadler to relay the position of Arlington School District, and Nadler has agreed to attach an addendum with the board's stance to the report before submitting it to the state.

"I just don't want the state to think we're considering merging our SUs," Arlington board member Maureen Harvey said at that meeting. "If anybody reads this report it looks like we as a board agreed to discuss merging the SUs."

Nadler said because all but one required signature has already been received, an addendum including Arlington's stance would be easier to attach than rewriting the sentence and starting the signature collecting process over. Nadler also said he believes the wording in the report accurately portrays the conversation from the final meeting.

Along with the report, Nadler said he will also make a recommendation to the Department of Education that it pursue a legislative change to Act 153 to allow the inclusion of union school districts on RED committees. The local committee did not include a representative from MAU because wording in the law does not allow it. MAU is made up of towns that were all represented, but by excluding MAU it was more difficult to have discussions about the middle and high school and get a perspective from a district that is already made up of multiple towns as a RED would be.

"I would have liked the law to have allowed the Mount Anthony Union district to be part of it because they are such a large player in that discussion," Nadler said.