School consolidation that will save district $1M praised

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MONTPELIER >> Gov. Peter Shumlin praised three Vermont communities Tuesday for being the first in the state to merge into a single school district following passage this year of a new school consolidation law.

Shumlin was joined Tuesday in Essex with state and local officials to talk about the education law known as Act 46.

Last week's decision by voters in Essex, Essex Junction and Westford show the new law is working, he said.

"Given the 20 percent decline in school enrollment over the last 20 years, it is clear we need to adapt to preserve the high-quality education we value. Vermont communities are answering that call with local decisions, not prescriptions from Montpelier," Shumlin said.

The two towns and one village near Vermont's largest city of Burlington are expected to save at least $1 million during the next five years, mostly by combining purchasing, human resources, tracking of student test scores and other administrative functions.

The unification reduces the number of school boards in the three communities from five to one and the number of superintendents from two to one, according to a statement from Shumlin's office.

Officials said students will benefit with expanded access to extracurricular activities like athletics, musical groups and clubs.

"Under the law, more and more Vermonters are focusing their local education decisions on finding efficiencies and maximizing academic opportunities," said House Speaker and gubernatorial candidate Shap Smith, who joined Shumlin along with Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe." (These) communities' willingness to work together to find solutions will allow community members, teachers and administrators to focus on what's most important — educating our kids."

While the three Chittenden County towns approved a unified school district, a proposal for the towns of Morristown and Elmore, both in Smith's House district, failed when Elmore voters rejected it by a larger margin than that by which their neighbors in Morristown voted in favor.

Eleven Vermont school systems are actively exploring or considering accelerated mergers under the law, more than double the five expected earlier in the year. In addition, about 10 formal study committees have been formed to explore potential unifications and a dozen other communities are in informal discussions about their options under the new law.

Some Republicans have voiced skepticism about Act 46, with one of the party's gubernatorial candidates, Bruce Lisman, calling for its repeal.

But Rep. Paul Dame, an Essex Junction Republican, issued a statement Tuesday saying he was pleased with the merger vote.

"The impetus is now on the newly elected board to carry out the desire of the voters and to begin saving the district money by focusing on eliminating the duplicative administrative burden that we previously had while operating two supervisory offices, which were located less than 5 miles apart," Dame said.


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