By June, the public will vote on whether each school district within the Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) will proceed along an accelerated path toward the consolidation of school management and budgets under Act 46. The WWSU study committee that was formed to better understand this statewide law continued to discuss its implementation at their January 13 meeting.
The group is working with several legal consultants, including Chris Leopold, an attorney who has worked with schools across the state regarding consolidation. WWSU superintendent Brigid Scheffert Nease relayed Leopold’s findings that Waterbury and Duxbury would vote for the accelerated version of the merger separately — not together, as previously thought. They would first need to vote in favor of dissolving their union district, as these union districts cannot vote to enter into a unified union, which is the goal of Act 46.
Board members wondered who will make decisions for Waterbury and Duxbury schools if their boards are dissolved with a May or June vote, as the unified board would not form immediately following this decision. Leopold will be consulted about this gap in school management.
Scheffert Nease said that if a town does not vote for the acceleration, it may be possible to petition for a revote within 30 days, but the board will consult with Leopold about when this revote would need to be held.
Leopold will meet with Scheffert Nease, WWSU director of finance and operations Michelle Baker and others to discuss these questions in detail on January 25. They will also create “story cards,” Scheffert Nease said — which will address “What’s in it for you to merge?”
Each district’s card will include a set of pros and cons regarding the accelerated merger. A con can often be seen as a pro and Waterbury board member Reed McCracken explained that while Waterbury-Duxbury Union is holding a bond for over $3 million, “other towns might look at this and say, while we’re taking on Waterbury-Duxbury’s debt, we’re also gaining the real value of facilities and property that’s almost twice the total value of what all the other towns are contributing.”
Scheffert Nease listed several benefits to the accelerated merger: tax incentives, school choice, the elimination of cost containment figures for the following budget year and tax rates that neither rise nor fall within 5 percent in the first year. These town-by-town story cards will be shared with the public in February.
During their January 27 public meeting, the committee will review a series of articles that would supplement the law — required by the Vermont Agency of Education (AOE) with an application to expedite the merger.
At the January 13 meeting, study committee chair Gabe Gilman asked the group if they would like to release an unapproved draft version of these articles to the public in upcoming weeks, and it was unanimously agreed to do so.