Addison County Towns To Vote On Unified Union

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(Host) A group of Addison County towns will vote on Town Meeting Day whether to merge their school boards and possibly save money.

Voters considered and killed the idea five years ago. But supporters say, with increasing costs and declining programming, this might be the year to try again.

VPR’s Melody Bodette has more.

(Bodette) Addison Northwest Supervisory Union is made up of five towns, three elementary schools, one combined middle and high school, governed by eight different school boards.

That means eight budgets and eight audits per year and at least eight board meetings a month.

(Langrock) "My name is Adela Langrock. I am from the Ferrisburgh Central School Board."

(Bodette) At a recent meeting Langrock told a group of interested taxpayers that there’s a lot that’s not working with the current governance system:

(Langrock) "It’s inefficient, it’s hard to do, it’s a lot of redundancies and we’re having to pay for it. Whenever we have increasing costs, what does that result in? It results in declining programming because we don’t have unlimited funds." 

(Bodette) Last year a committee recommended forming a unified union – that’s one school board to govern the entire pre-K through 12th grade school district.

Schools throughout the state are considering similar measures to manage costs and to hold down escalating tax rates that they’re often unable to control.

In Addison County, schools’ per-pupil spending rates are rising even as the district’s enrollment has fallen from a high of 1,300 a decade ago to 1,100 students now. If the school boards in Addison Northwest merge, they’ll spend $13,100 per student.

Without unification, one school, Addison Central, will spend $15,000 per student, even though the school board cut the music program and a librarian.

Kris Bristow chairs the governance committee. After the meeting, she said there’s a change in attitude toward the proposal this time:

(Bristow) "In the last five years couple years because of that enrollment dropping, and the cost of education coming up. I think people are starting to understand how this could help them."

(Bodette)  Services and possibly teachers could be shared among the schools, and there’s a possibility of school choice.

But some people question why their town should pay a higher tax rate under the proposal. Craig Miner of Vergennes left the meeting undecided.

(Miner) "It’s always difficult to pay more taxes, in going into a unified union than you’re paying right now. But that may change in a few years and Vergennes may be on the other side of the coin."

(Bodette) At a recent meeting, some said the supervisory union should merge now, while there’s an option, rather than wait for the state to force it.

Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca says that’s a real possibility because there are bills in the legislature encouraging consolidation. He says Addison Northwest could be a leader:

(Vilaseca) "Any movement towards redistricting right now, where we can find some efficiencies both personnel efficiencies and financial efficiencies in how we operate our schools are good things."

(Bodette) There are a few unified unions in the state, and other districts are also considering the idea.

When the five towns vote on the merger proposal on Town Meeting Day, they’ll also elect 12 members to the unified board, in case the proposal passes. If it does, those new board members will start serving next July.

For VPR News, I’m Melody Bodette.

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