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First wave of district mergers facing June vote

Observer graphic courtesy of the Agency of Education A wave of school district mergers will be voted or revoted upon in June, including the Chittenden South Supervisory Union, the largest potential merger yet.
Observer graphic courtesy of the Agency of Education
A wave of school district mergers will be voted or revoted upon in June, including the Chittenden South Supervisory Union, the largest potential merger yet.

By Tiffany Danitz Pache

For Vermont Digger

On June 7, voters will say yea or nay to Act 46 mergers in four parts of Vermont. These are the last of 14 unification votes for parts of the state hoping to get in on the first phase — accelerated mergers — of the school district consolidation law and in so doing garner the largest tax breaks.

Washington West, Chittenden South, Orleans Central and Franklin Northeast supervisory unions are taking their individual cases to local voters on the first Tuesday in June. Also, a revote later that month in Orwell will ask residents whether they want to join the proposed Slate Valley Unified Union School District.

Since last fall when the first ballot was cast in favor of merging in Essex-Westford, voters in 39 towns, representing 45 school districts, have decided to streamline into 10 unified school districts, according to the Agency of Education.

Two merger proposals failed in the first round of voting. Elmore approved its merger with Morristown in a revote; Orwell will similarly reconsider its proposed merger in June.

“We were surprised by the number of districts that moved quickly to take advantage of opportunities available in Act 46,” said Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe. “This is a remarkable and encouraging feat that proves that Vermonters are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and work together.”

Act 46 is a landmark school governance law that encourages Vermont’s 270-plus school districts to merge into larger units in response to a decline in the number of students attending Vermont’s schools. The law was passed at the end of the 2015 legislative session.

Nicole Mace, executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association, has said in the past that policymakers expected just a few mergers to go through in the first year. No one expected more than half a dozen merger proposals to be approved by the State Board of Education and voted on locally by this summer.

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