Our opinion: Losing patience with Act 46

Posted

Judging by their town votes, breaking up isn't that hard to do. Readsboro residents voted 47-13 and Halifax residents voted 48-0 to dissolve their school merger, in effect since 2017 under Vermont's Act 46.

Act 46 ordered up mergers between school districts to save money, create efficiencies and improve education for Vermont's public school students.

However, that's not happening at Southern Valley Unified Union School District, at least to a measurable degree at this point. The school district is over budget by $113,000 and staff turnover has created continuity issues. What's clear is the district hasn't achieved the full synergy that the Act 46 vision implied it would and voters in both towns have lost patience.

Whether these issues would be ironed out in the near future, voters in both towns aren't waiting to find out. Some voters wanted more financial information before casting their votes whether to retain or dissolve the school district. The school board was told the schools would not lose out on grants if they went solo, which could have been a major complication.

Vermont's secretary of education and Agency of Education will now take up the matter and make a decision whether to bless the breakup. All eyes are on this case, since Readsboro and Halifax are the first in Vermont to attempt to reverse Act 46 locally by dissolving their merger.

It's conceivable the state could return with a counterproposal or a framework that provides a path forward, one that would seek to retain the unified school district. Even though the towns voted the way they did, status quo is expected through the 2020-2021 school year.

If Vermont believes as strongly as it says it does about Act 46 and its ability to save money and improve the quality of education, it ought to think long and hard how towns like Halifax and Readsboro can make it work.

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