Act 46 vote today

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BENNINGTON — On Tuesday four communities will make their voices heard on the future of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union.

Floor meetings were held on Monday night in Bennington, Pownal, Shaftsbury, and Woodford, the towns that will accept or reject a proposal to merge their school districts, along with Mount Anthony Union, into a single pre-K through twelfth grade district with one school board and one tax rate. The proposal would bring the districts into compliance with Act 46 of 2015.

Polling locations will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Residents of the Bennington School District will cast their ballots at the Bennington Fire Station, Pownal School District residents at Pownal Center Firehouse, Shaftsbury School District residents at the Buck Hill Road Firehouse, and Woodford School District at the Woodford Town Office Building. Residents of the North Bennington Graded School District, which includes Shaftsbury District 1, will not be voting, as the merged governance structure being discussed by the other districts of the SVSU is not compatible with North Bennington's structure, which offers school choice for residents in grades pre-K through six.

The first two pages of the ballot, which can be viewed in full on the SVSU website, focus on Article A, the question of whether or not to form the Mount Anthony Unified School District under the terms listed on the ballot. Those articles of agreement were drafted by the SVSU's Act 46 Study Committee, working alongside consultant Dan French.

In order for the new school district to come into existence, Bennington and at least two of the three remaining towns will need to vote in favor of the merger.

If the proposal passes, the new district will assume control of all assets and liabilities of the merging districts on the day it begins operation, July 1, 2019.

If the merger proposal passes, but one of the districts votes 'no,' that district will find itself in a similar situation to North Bennington, in that it will still be a part of the SVSU and will still send their middle and high school students to Mount Anthony, which will now be operated by the unified district board. That district would maintain its representation on the unified board, but they would only be able to vote on items related to the middle and high school. The community would maintain its elementary school board, which would continue to oversee the elementary education of its students as it does now.

If the proposal does not pass, each district's board would need to report to the State Board of Education in December on ways they are already meeting Act 46's goals. The State Board in 2019, based on recommendations from Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe that will be issued next spring, will release a statewide education governance plan, in which they have the power to merge districts involuntarily. Experts on the process, including French and Donna Russo-Savage of the Agency of Education, have said in the past that it is likely that the schools of the SVSU will be merged in some capacity if the process were to get to that point.

This vote will also be the last opportunity for the SVSU districts to take advantage of property tax incentives promised to districts that approve a merger by Nov. 30. If the vote does pass, districts that are involved will get an eight cent tax credit in the first year of operation, which will decrease to six cents in year two, then four cents, then two cents.

The final ballot page lists all of the races for seats on the new board. There are eleven seats up for grabs in total, four from Bennington, two from Pownal, two from North Bennington, two from Shaftsbury, and one from Woodford, with 13 candidates running. The Banner and Catamount Access Television partnered to produce a question-and-answer package with nine of those candidates last week, which is available in print form at BenningtonBanner.com and in video form at CAT-TV's YouTube page.

Derek Carson can be reached at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.

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