Administration hails district merger votes as path to savings

Taking stock of Act 46 votes after Town Meeting Day, Gov. Phil Scott and Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe said the many unified districts formed will offer more flexibility and enable cost savings.

The administration urged school districts to do more to find savings that can be invested in child care, early education and college.

Phil Scott

Gov. Phil Scott on inauguration day 2017. File photo by Andrew Kutches/VTDigger

Since Act 46 was enacted in June 2015, 104 school districts representing 96 towns have merged into 20 larger school districts. On Tuesday, districts in Windsor, Windham, Caledonia, Essex, Bennington, Rutland and Addison counties voted to consolidate governance of their schools.

Nearly 60 percent of Vermont students now live, or will soon be living, in a unified district, according to the administration.

“The mergers approved on Town Meeting Day include one district that pays tuition for all students in PK-12; two districts that operate schools through grade eight and tuition older students; and three districts that operate schools for all grades. Not only will this provide flexibility to enhance educational quality, but it will reduce administrative costs and allow our systems to focus on improving learning and increasing options for our children,” according to a joint statement by Scott and Holcombe.

The administration said merged systems are having “powerful conversations” about staffing levels, the best use for their infrastructure, and ways to enhance learning opportunities for students.

Last week, Holcombe shared data with the governor and lawmakers indicating that school districts that merge can save money. Several districts that had been in the top 20 for spending in fiscal 2017 dropped off the preliminary list for 2018 after merging. They are Weybridge, Vergennes Union High School, Moretown, Middlebury Union High School and Ripton.

Still, Scott and Holcombe encouraged school districts to practice fiscal discipline in order to free up state dollars.

One of Scott’s priorities is to set up a seamless education system that will support working families as well as provide job training for graduates. “Investing in a cradle-to-career system is critical to making Vermont an education destination and to growing our economy, reducing the demand for social services and creating greater opportunities for all Vermonters,” the pair said.

Tiffany Danitz Pache

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