Citing Savings, Merger Supporters Say It Would Increase Education Efficiency

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(Host) Residents in five Vermont towns will go to the polls Tuesday to vote on a plan that would merge seven school districts, forming a single, regional district with one board.

The towns of Bolton, Huntington, Jericho, Richmond and Underhill make up the Chittenden East Supervisory Union, which serves about 3,000 students.

Robert Letovsky is the chairman of the Chittenden East executive committee, which supports the merger.

(Letovsky) "This proposal opens the door to allowing us to address some of the real challenges that public education is facing."

(Host) Letovsky says those challenges include declining enrollment, and per-student costs.

And he says that in addition to saving Chittenden East more than $300,000, the plan would balance class sizes across the district.

(Letovsky) "I think some people are afraid of county-wide supervised unions or state-wide unions, I don’t know. But in our case I think it’s really just an incremental change. I think it’s important to demonstrate that this can be done."

(Host) Vermont Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca agrees. Tuesday’s vote comes less than a month after Vergennes voters rejected a similar school board unification plan for the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union. And Vilaseca says he worries that vote may be inhibiting other school districts from considering mergers.

(Vilaseca) "It does have a chilling effect on me because I do believe that having one school district that was successful in having a regional educational district positive vote would help others see that this is a move in the right direction."

(Host) But opponents of the school consolidation plan say the supervisory union already has enough authority.  Gail Connely of Huntington is the former superintendent of Chittenden East and a staunch opponent of the plan.

(Connely)  "I believe the use of our community resources shouldn’t be handed over to a regional board."

Connely and other critics of the plan say it would strip them of local control, and could lead to school closings. They also question the financial savings estimated by the board, calling them unrealistic.

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