Cate says Vermont needs fewer school districts

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(Host) Education Commissioner Richard Cate says Vermont could get along with fewer school districts.

But as VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, not everyone thinks districts should be required to consolidate.

(Sneyd) In Commissioner Cate’s view, the only way to save small schools is to have larger districts.

(Cate) "Today, you have a lot of small schools who, especially with declining enrollment, they are struggling to continue programs that students need and in some cases they’re struggling to stay open. Some of them have closed. If you look at Granby, Norton, Belvidere, places like that, theye just became too small and they couldn’t continue to operate.”


(Sneyd) Cate has recommended to the Legislature that every school district in the state should have a minimum of 1,500 students.

Those students could be spread among a variety of schools throughout the district.

But he says there should be just one superintendent and a single school board for each of those districts.

That would slash the number of districts from 280 to around 40 or 50. Today, most districts are far smaller than Cate envisions. There are only a half dozen or so districts with as many as 1,500 students.

Cate says consolidation would save money and duplication. Every district would have its own high school. The elementary schools in that district then would be able to coordinate better and prepare students for high school.

He says he would give districts time to collaborate with each other and figure out how they might combine their administrations.

But if they couldn’t figure it out, he would have the state would draw the district lines.

And that’s what concerns Janet Ancel, chairwoman of the House Education Committee.

She points out that three Chittenden County communities – Essex, Essex Junction and Westford – just voted whether to consolidate into a single district.

(Ancel) “That was a proposal that was very thoroughly vetted. I think that the public debate covered all the issues. And it was roundly defeated. I think one of the things we learned from that is Vermonters want their local school districts and they don’t want them to change.”

(Sneyd) Ancel says consolidating school districts may be a good idea.

But she says forcing it on local school boards may not be the best solution. She wonders whether there might be other ways of encouraging districts to consolidate, maybe with financial or tax incentives.

Ancel says those and other ideas for changing the way Vermont governs its schools are sure to be on the agenda when the Legislature returns to Montpelier next month.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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