Supporting a merged school district is the safest course for voters

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One of the safest bets for Northshire residents voting in annual town elections Tuesday would be to support the proposed Taconic and Green Regional School District and elect its first regional school board.

A well-crafted proposal recommending a merger of nine towns and seven school districts with five schools in the Manchester-Dorset area will be on the ballot in each town. That will be in the form of a simple yes-or-no question on the merger itself.

There will also be candidate selections to make to fill openings on the regional board.

As a recent panel discussion in Manchester made crystal clear, supporting the merger plan could save the Northshire towns future headaches in the form of a state-imposed merger not so well-suited to the area and in the form of lost tax incentives and grant funding.

Voters who oppose the merger plan for various reasons — perceived loss of local control being the most often cited — would be taking a chance that something will change on the state level to shield the towns from the effects of Act 46. But we wouldn't recommend that course; nothing is likely to happen on that score in the Legislature.

Panelists during a discussion at Burr and Burton Academy, including those opposed to Act 46 and to the merger itself, all seemed in agreement that the Legislature is not about to overturn the 2015 act anytime soon.

That means Act 46, which first encourages school district consolidation to deal with a declining student population in the state, but later could impose mergers on districts that fail to act, likely will result in some forced consolidations over the next few years.

Yes, there is talk of a bill emerging in the state Senate this session to revise Act 46, but local lawmakers seem in agreement that those proposals won't make it through the House, at least not this year.

As Rep. Linda Joy Sullivan, D-Dorset, said during the presentation in Manchester, the House Committee on Education appears "still solidly behind" the basic objectives of Act 46, including the option of forcing districts into mergers.

On the other hand, if the Taconic and Green district is approved by voters, the towns will receive property tax reductions over a four-year period and be assured they won't lose out on Small Schools grant funding.

In addition, this proposal was hammered out over the course of a year by the Northshire Merger Study Committee, which consisted of 17 residents representing all of the towns — Manchester, Dorset, Londonderry, Sunderland, Peru, Landgrove, Mt. Tabor, Danby and Weston. The committee voted unanimously in November to approve this plan, and the State Board of Education voted unanimously in December to approve it.

If voters have any further questions, they should familiarize themselves with the proposal prior to March 7. The details are available at https://sites.google.com/site/northshiremergerstudy/, or by contacting the study committee chairman, Jon Wilson, at jon.wilson@brsu.org

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