And they’re off: The Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) Board has started investigating its options under Act 46, which will consolidate school districts across the state by 2019.

At their meeting on Wednesday, September 23, the WWSU Board designated which members from each town will serve on a study committee for the new state law. Moving forward, the executive committee and the study committee will meet on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at the Harwood Union High School library to discuss what school district consolidation will look like for Washington West. All meetings are open to the public.

After meeting for several months, the study committee will decide whether to ask WWSU towns to vote for an accelerated transition, which includes higher tax incentives for faster consolidation. If the WWSU is to go forward with an accelerated transition, it must be approved by all towns by July of 2016.

“If we do go forward, we’ll have to promote the vote,” WWSU superintendent Brigid Sheffert Nease told the board last Wednesday.

But if the study committee chooses to ask taxpayers not to vote for an accelerated transition or if the vote does not pass, “we’re not out of the game,” Brigid Scheffert Nease said, explaining that the study committee will continue to meet in order to investigate the creation of a Regional Education District (RED) under Act 153 or the creation of a Modified Unified Union School District (MUUSD) under Act 156.

Either way, the study committee will prepare a report of its findings for the Vermont Agency of Education (AOE).

Last Wednesday, the WWSU Board elected Gabriel Gilman of Moretown to serve as chair of the study committee and Christine Sullivan of Waitsfield to serve as vice chair.

“We won’t be doing this by ourselves,” Scheffert Nease said last Wednesday, explaining that 26 supervisory unions in Vermont are also working toward an accelerated transition, “and 12 of them are ahead of us,” she said, so the WWSU can learn from them.

Washington West is currently in the process of applying for a $20,000 grant from the state so that the study committee can hire a consultant, and “I’ve been told we’re a shoe-in” to receive it, Scheffert Nease told the board.

As for the future of Act 46, “There are some folks that truly believe it’s going to be repealed,” Scheffert Nease said, “but there’s no evidence ... so we have to keep going forward.”

Vermont “has a spending problem” when it comes to education, Scheffert Nease said, “and people are just not comfortable talking about pretty sweeping change.”

According to Scheffert Nease, school district consolidation under Act 46 will create a “more elastic system” within the supervisory union, which could help solve gender inequity in classroom and curriculum inequity between schools.

There are other issues that consolidation could alleviate, Scheffert Nease told the board last Wednesday, “and we should all be brainstorming.”