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.

If you read us, please support us.

Comment Policy requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harrassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Comments should be 1000 characters or fewer.

We moderate every comment. Please go to our FAQ for the full policy.

Tiffany Danitz Pache

Recent Stories

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Administration hails district merger votes as path to savings"
  • Randall Szott

    While there may be 96 towns that have merged school districts, there are, coincidentally also 96 towns that are struggling with (or have outright rejected) merging. The alleged benefits of school consolidation being touted by proponents of Act 46 have already failed to materialize in other parts of the country. Study after study confirms that merged schools usually do show an initial drop in cost to operate then creep back up beyond where they started as large budgets become harder and harder to watch closely. The top 20 list cited in the article would be interesting to examine – did Ripton *actually* substantively reduce spending? Or was their per pupil spending figure merely folded into larger district spending thus camouflaging business as usual?

    Merged schools also have higher long term societal costs producing lower graduation rates and thus *increasing* the use of social services. It would be helpful to have a governor conversant with basic facts about education. For instance:

    “There is very little evidence on whether district consolidation can save money and maintain educational quality. Several studies that control for educational costs and student socio-economic status show greater efficiency among smaller districts. One unique study measured efficiency by calculating a cost per graduate and found that while average per student costs were higher for smaller districts, the average per graduate costs were slightly lower for smaller districts.” – Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, Inc.

  • Edward Letourneau

    I can’t wait to see what they come up with the magic bullet doesn’t cut costs. — For the readers who don’t know, no one from the state or the school board association was able to build a spreadsheet that could calculate savings for any districts, so it was never distributed to Act 46 committees.

  • Scott Thompson

    I wonder how many of those top 20 high-spending districts dropped off the list simply because the lower-spending districts with which they merged are themselves spending more now that finances are pooled? (VTDigger, thanks for reporting what state officials are saying; it would also be great to see some cross-checking of their claims.)

  • John Freitag

    There is no evidence that there will be savings or lower property taxes as a result of consolidation. The new White River Valley Supervisor Union which combined two supervisor unions in central Vermont was promoted similarly as a way of stream lining and reducing costs. At the annual School meeting in Strafford on Tuesday when asked if there were indeed lower costs, school officials said no. While initially there were fewer administrators ( one Superintendent instead of two ) additional supervisory staff have since been hired eliminating cost savings and the budget is higher this year than last.

    • James Hall

      John: Appreciate your reporting of on the ground experience. Some gold towns are having a tough time finding a merger partner(s). I believe this is to some degree by design. The merged schools get a five year tax break, this money has to come from somewhere…… I

  • John Grady

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

    No intention to cut spending so taxes could be cut.

    The number of management people employed by school districts in the state isn’t ever mentioned. No mention of possible size of staff reduction and what the savings would be in the state if all districts met the new parameters set for district size.

    Wild guess Example
    If there was 200 school districts employing 2,000 people in school district offices an it could it be reduced 50% eliminating 1,000 jobs and the savings would be ?

    If the pay and benefits per job totaled $100,000 per employee and 1,000 jobs where cut the savings would be $100 million and the schools spend over $1.6 billion so the savings would be a little over 6%, half of it would be lost to the usual yearly increase so for a year or two taxes might not go up only if they didn’t use the savings for something else.

    My wild guess example was pie in the sky numbers. The actual best case possible number of jobs cuts and savings per job eliminated would be ? Probably a real lot lower so all Act 46 amounts to is a snow job to maintain the status quo.

    The school spending could and should be cut over 50% but that will never happen because people will pass every school budget at some point even if they have to keep voting until they get it right. Never hear a peep about a school budget being cut a lot to get it passed on the second or third try.

  • Margaret Maclean

    Please don’t treat Vermonters as if we are stupid!

    Of course Weybridge, Vergennes, Ripton, Moretown and Middlebury are no longer on the high spending list.

    These school districts NO LONGER EXIST.

    They have been sold for a $1 to the regional merged board and town school district spending is no longer disaggregated. These districts are no longer on the list PERIOD. We have no clue if they are spending less, spending the same or spending more.

    It is disengenuous at best to infer that because they are no longer on the list they are spending less. There is no evidence given to support this claim.

  • Dorothy Naylor

    The AOE produced 2 charts listing the 20 high per pupil spending for 2017 and 2018.

    On the 2018 chart three of the 20 high spenders – East Montpelier, Berlin and Middlesex – are from Washington Central Supervisory Union. All three have significant bonded debt. The other two members of that SU, Calais and Worcester, have low per pupil spending. They have no bonded debt because they have faithfully attended to maintenance needs of their schools and, in respect to income, are the poorest of the five towns.

    So, of course if those 5 towns merged East Montpelier, Berlin and Middlesex would not fall into the top 20. But the money needed to run each of those schools would not be any less. On a per school basis they would still be the high spenders.

    It means that the two poorer towns Calais and Worcester would appear to be spending more per pupil – but still, on a per school basis they would still be low. The high spending for them would be on more, much more taxes – their tax rate would go up even with the measly few cent incentive offered by the state, and the tax rate for East Montpelier, Berlin and Middlesex would go down – allowing Calais and Worcester, remember the two poorest towns in the district, to help pay off the $15,000,000 bonded indebtedness of the richer towns.

    It seems to me the AOE and the SBE have two standards. There is one for students – no more teaching the same thing in the same way to all students as in the 50’s and 60’s. We know now that some have special needs and the teachers must accommodate those needs in many different ways – and well they should.

    The other standard, according to the powers that be who are shouting the success of Act 46, is that all mergers must be one model and one model only, no accounting for differences. Approximately 96 towns do not fit that one model – they are the needy children in the classrooms who need special plans – please listen to them.

    And I also request that VTDigger do an in depth article on the many towns that find Act 46 to be a strait jacket. Although they are more than willing to work at finding the best governance models for their schools that meet the five goals of Act 46.