Ed agency releases plan for forced mergers

Aug 23, 2018 by

By Lola Duffort –

Krista Huling

The Vermont Agency of Education has released draft articles of agreement for districts forced to merge under Act 46, a document that outlines how the new consolidated entities would be governed, with key implications for communities worried about how their larger neighbors would share power.

Articles of agreement determine everything from board composition to how district property and debt would be handled in a consolidated entity. In releasing the proposed articles, the agency in particular highlighted concerns about whether bigger communities would use their majority voting power to syphon off resources or close small schools.

Notably, the articles include fairly ironclad protections against school closure – but only within the first two years of a forced merger. Afterward, a school could be closed by a vote of the combined electorate of a consolidated district.

State Board of Education Chair Krista Huling said that on the whole, the draft articles do a good job balancing the interests of all involved. The two-year period would allow communities to build trust, she said, while allowing for more flexibility in the long run.

“I think locking something in indefinitely is dangerous,” she said.

The articles, if ultimately adopted by the State Board of Education, could be changed by the newly formed districts. But the default articles the board approves will also include provisions about what can and can’t be amended – and by whom. In cases where districts are compelled to merge with districts that have already voluntarily consolidated – and that already have a set of articles – the state’s default articles will not apply.

The proposed articles would also give each town in a district two members on a unified board. Each town’s representative would have to live in that town, but the electorate of the entire unified district would get to vote for them. The combined electorate of the district could also ultimately change how the board is composed, according to the articles.

Margaret MacLean, an education consultant and a member of Vermonters for Schools and Community, which is fighting the forced mergers, said the articles do little to mitigate concerns raised by the group.

“These articles are not going to do anything to change people’s minds,” she said.

Now in the final stages of Act 46’s implementation, the state is tasked with deciding what to do with districts that haven’t merged voluntarily. The State Board will have the final say, and must make a decision on both the articles of agreement and which districts to consolidate by Nov. 30.

Vermonters for Schools and Community has been focusing its efforts on opposing the agency’s recommended plan, which includes 18 forced mergers. MacLean said its members probably wouldn’t bother with leaning on the State Board to include stronger protections for smaller districts in the articles, and would instead keep pushing the board to allow districts who submitted so-called Section 9 proposals to say un-consolidated altogether.

“We’re not looking at the articles at this point. We’re looking at getting a fair shake on the Section 9 process,” she said.

Huling said state board members are expected to begin discussing the articles when they next convene in Chester on Sept. 19.

Source: Ed agency releases plan for forced mergers – VTDigger

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