ASCU launches effort to to merge governance

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central Supervisory Union is kicking off the 2015-2016 academic year with a first-ever strategic plan and the organization of a committee that will help the Middlebury-area school district comply with a new state directive to form a single school board that would have oversight over a single education budget for what would be a consolidated K-12 district.
The ACSU Executive Committee and all of the individual ACSU school boards have agreed to proceed with an accelerated merger under Act 46, the education reform law passed last spring. That law offers financial incentives to supervisory unions that agree to establish a single, consolidated school district that would be governed by a single board. The ACSU is currently made up of nine school boards — one that establishes ACSU policy, another that presides over Middlebury Union middle and high schools (known as UD-3), and one for each of the seven elementary schools in the ACSU-member towns of Middlebury, Shoreham, Bridport, Salisbury, Weybridge, Ripton and Cornwall.
If ACSU voters approve the new structure before July 1, 2016, residents in the seven towns would vote annually on a single K-12 spending plan. If local voters opt for this transition, they will benefit from financial incentives contained in Act 46. Those incentives include:
•  Decreases of 10 cents on the education property tax rate during the first year of the governance merger, followed by 8 cents in year two; 6 cents in year three; 4 cents in year four; and finally, 2 cents in year five.
•  A “transition facilitation grant” of $150,000 (or 5 percent of the base amount multiplied by the new district’s average daily membership).
•  The ability to retain their Small Schools Grants, which will instead be known as the “merger support grant.” That’s key for the seven ACSU elementary schools, which receive a combined total of $460,000 each year through the grant program. That’s around $80,000 per school, or the approximate cost of a teaching position.
Supervisory unions that don’t embrace Act 46 will lose their small school grants.
•  An exemption from repaying construction aid if the ACSU’s plan includes closing a building.
The ACSU Executive Committee and the newly created, 11-member ACSU Charter Committee were slated to meet on Monday, Aug. 24, at 6 p.m. at the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center to further define their respective responsibilities in proceeding with the accelerated merger under Act 46. The Charter Committee is made up of five members from Middlebury and one each from the smaller ACSU-member towns.
Ruth Hardy, chairwoman of the Mary Hogan Elementary School board, is among Middlebury’s five Charter Committee representatives. She recently told the Middlebury selectboard the committee will be responsible for drafting proposed articles of incorporation for the new district, recommending the composition of the new unified board and proposing processes for servicing existing debt and voting on budgets.
The Charter Committee has set a goal of drafting the new charter by December to forward to the State Board of Education. Voters in the seven ACSU towns would be asked to support the Act 46 unification proposal at the respective town meetings next March.
“It’s a big topic that will get lots of public discussion,” said UD-3 school board Chairman Peter Conlon, a member of the ACSU Executive Committee that will take a lead in bringing ACSU residents up to speed on the transition. The Charter Committee, Conlon explained, will focus more on the technical requirements of Act 46 that are laid out in statute.
Peter Burrows, ACSU superintendent, will assist in the effort. Burrows and his staff are preparing information to help guide the Charter Committee, including a financial analysis of how the seven ACSU towns stand with respect to the incentives and spending limits prescribed by Act 46.
“It’s a fairly short runway,” Burrows said of the deadlines for complying with the accelerated merger.
Burrows discussed other preparations for the new school year, which begins this Wednesday, Aug. 26. They include:
•  The scheduled unveiling on Aug. 21 of an ACSU strategic plan that will for the first time clearly define and codify the ACSU’s educational priorities for all students. A 15-member “ACSU Strategic Plan Steering Committee” helped craft the plan after soliciting feedback at a variety of forums while reviewing a wealth of already-completed district studies and statistics. The Independent will soon publish an article covering specifics of the plan.
“(The plan) will cover the next five years of who we are and what we’re doing,” Burrows said.
•  Burrows’ annual Tour de ACSU on Aug. 26-27, in which he rides his bike to all nine schools in the district to personally welcome students to the new academic year. This year, the ride will be a bit different, in that he’ll be greeting schools outdoors as a group, rather than classroom by classroom. Also, he will be using GPS, and will post a link to the ride once it has been completed. Burrows, an accomplished cyclist, makes a point of making the rounds to all seven elementary schools, as well as the middle school and high school, during his annual tour.
“I’m hoping (the GPS aspect of the tour) spurs some thinking about math and problem solving,” he said.
•  The launch of new websites for all ACSU schools that will offer more communication and engagement opportunities for the community, according to Burrows. Those sites are scheduled to go live on Aug. 26.
The ACSU also provided a list of new personnel that will join the ranks of district schools this year. That list is included in this issue of the Independent.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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