MANCHESTER — After a meeting last Thursday, the Northshire Merger Study Committee has decided to hold off on making the decision on whether or not to form a Supervisory District, leaving open the possibility of forming a larger Supervisory Union with other districts in the region, including Arlington.
Chairman Jon Wilson said in his monthly newsletter that the committee decided that, in the end, the committee likely has very little power to make the decision on whether to form a Regional Education District, which would be part of a larger SU, or to simply form a supervisory district made up of the communities represented on the committee — Danby, Dorset, Manchester, Mount Tabor, Sunderland, and from the four communities in the Mountain Towns RED: Londonderry, Landgrove, Peru and Weston.
At the committee's Sept. 22 meeting, said Wilson, "The Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union, which serves in an advisory capacity to this merger study, produced financial models that estimated an SD could cost more and yield higher tax rates than a RED merger for some towns involved in the consolidation. While the committee is mindful of the fiscal outcomes, it is deeply considerate of the educational manifestations of each governance structure. We have identified many positive outcomes for our kids common to both structures."
However, he said, at the committee's Sept. 29 meeting, the discussion changed. "In late September," he said, "we received some guidance from the State Board of Education; it has since become increasingly clear to our study group that we hold little-to-no authority in the decision to become a RED or SD. Many committee members, including myself, have speculated that since we would geographically isolate neighboring districts, the prospective Northshire district could end up in an SU even if we recommend an SD to the state board. While speculation has its obvious limitations, committee members are apprehensive that if we merge into a RED, then we could end up greatly underrepresented on the future SU board.
"We are currently operating under the assumption that if the Northshire District ended up in an SU, the state board would most likely partner us with Arlington, Pawlet/Rupert, and a (district made up of non-operating schools in the region)," said Wilson, "Even if the SU composition turned out to be a permutation of this estimation, our committee deems it an untenable proposition if the Northshire district received the same number of SU board seats as the other less-populated districts. If the aforementioned districts formed an SU board according to the default methodology, the board would have ten seats with the Northshire district claiming only three. Thankfully, Vermont law provides some recourse — the state board reserves the power to waive the default board composition method in favor of a viable alternative. In the coming weeks, we plan to engage our neighbors on possible alternatives.
"At our September 29 meeting, our committee reasoned that choosing the RED or SD path in the immediate future could be fruitless or unwise given the SU board composition uncertainty coupled with our mutual interpretation that the vast majority of our decisions yet-to-be-made do not hinge on our recommendation to become a RED or SD. In short, we agreed that we have more pressing matters to attend to, and we will circle back around to this issue later."
In October, the Northshire committee also hopes to address a plan for operating transportation as a merged district, design a model for the first year of operations, hammer down the implications of assets and liabilities in the event of a merger, and determine a name for the merged district. The committee's next meeting will be Oct. 13 at 6 p.m. at Manchester Elementary Middle School.
Contact Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.