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Guest Column: Why we are all voting ‘Yes’ to a merger on June 7

By the members of the CSSU Act 46 Study Committee

In September, a working group formed to study school governance consolidation in Chittenden South Supervisory Union. Consisting of members appointed by the school boards of Williston, Hinesburg, Shelburne, Charlotte and St. George, the committee considered the question: Would uniting the separate school districts into a single entity be in the best interests of those communities and their students?

The study questions and the committee did not emerge in a vacuum. In April of 2015, the Vermont Legislature passed what is commonly known as Act 46. Act 46 invites school boards of the state to look into the efficiencies and educational benefits that might result from merging school districts.

CSSU’s Act 46 Study Committee began work with a good understanding that our communities that make up the Chittenden South Supervisory Union already work together closely.

After analyzing many aspects of the question—from fiscal issues to educational benefits — the committee unanimously supported recommending that voters approve of the unification of districts into one combined entity known as the Champlain Valley School District.

The most significant visible change would take place at the school board level. The seven currently existing school boards would be replaced with one 12-member board, with representation distributed across communities proportionally by population. Another obvious change would be voting on one combined budget, similar to what we do now with Champlain Valley Union High School (CVU).

The Committee’s website provides greater detail from the study. In summary, three of the many factors leading to the study committee’s recommendation can serve as examples of study tasks and findings.

First, the financial incentives put forth in Act 46 encourage school districts to vote by June 30, 2016 for maximum benefits. If voters approve the proposal on June 7, the state would grant a reduction in our property tax rates for the first five years after unification. The reductions would start at $.10 and decrease $.02 a year until they expire. In addition the state would make available a grant of $150,000.00 to help pay for transition costs.

Second, additional efficiencies can arise from unification. CSSU’s districts currently share governing of our high school and central office services. A third of our students already attend school in a unified district, as students of CVU High School. In addition, upwards of 70 percent of our education budgets are already spent in a coordinated fashion either as part of the CVU budget or for shared services at the CSSU level (much of this coordinated CSSU spending is required under state law).

The committee found that by taking the next step and uniting, an additional $1.5 million dollars could be realized over five years.

Third, our students’ educational programs can benefit from the flexibility and predictability in planning allowed by uniting into a larger district. Through unification, our principals gain more time to focus on instructional leadership as some of their current activities focused on operations can be better coordinated through a central office.

Additionally, a larger system can absorb changes in populations more easily than a smaller system. Unification of our schools at the board level does not mean that any actual schools are going to close. Instead, unification allows for better sharing of staff and materials across town lines, allowing all schools to benefit from shared resources.

Not only is Vermont recognized as a leading state for public schools, our towns have some of the best public schools in Vermont. We believe that by uniting our districts, we can continue to improve on an already great system. We, the undersigned, are all voting “yes” on June 7.

For more information please visit: act46.cssu.org.

The Members of the CSSU Act 46 Study Committee:
Mark McDermott (Charlotte); Erik Beal (Charlotte); Colleen MacKinnon (Hinesburg); Keith Roberts (Hinesburg; Russ Caffry (Shelburne); Dave Connery (Shelburne); Tim Williams (Shelburne); Kelly Bowen (St. George); Kevin Mara (Williston); Karen Maklad (Williston); Gene McCue (Williston); Jeanne Jensen (Williston)