Starksboro to host ANeSU Q&A on district unification

STARKSBORO — Residents from all five towns in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union are invited to the first district-wide Act 46 forum on school unification next Monday, Nov. 9, at 7 p.m. in Starksboro.
Panelists for the forum include Nicole Mace, executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association; Rep. Fred Baser, R-Bristol; and Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol; and Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven.
Robinson Elementary School board chair Louis DuPont stressed how important it was for community members from all five towns to come and bring their own questions and concerns about the Act 46 legislation.
“We designed the forum so that we could open up the floor to discussions and questions. That’s really important,” said DuPont. “We want people to ask questions and think about how we would want to do this if there was no one making us or getting us to do a particular thing. What would we do that was proactive and forward looking?”
The forum will take place at Robinson Elementary School in the multipurpose room. The evening will kick off with featured speaker Mace, who will discuss the various actions that school boards and communities across the state are taking in reaction to this sweeping legislation and what this could mean for ANeSU.Baser and Sharpe will provide background on the need for and intent of the law.
But over half of the evening will be devoted to a larger question and answer session, where the invited experts can address attendees’ questions and concerns and discuss the issues.
Lincoln held a townwide forum with Sharpe on Aug. 31. Monkton invited Sharpe to a Sep. 10 meeting for an open discussion with the school board and the wider community. School boards throughout the district plan to host additional Act 46 forums and get as much public feedback as possible, as the process continues.
Act 46 asks individual school districts — such as the five districts for each of the ANeSU towns plus the high school — to unify governance into a single K-12 district with at least 900 students. Towns can elect to unify existing supervisory unions or to construct new entirely unified districts. Signed into law on June 2, Act 46 seeks to rein in school costs while providing greater equity in terms of quality and variety of education for all Vermont students.
Said Gov. Shumlin in a September blog posting, “Across Vermont, school boards are grappling with Act 46, the new legislation that provides financial support for districts that want to collaborate and come together to share resources to better provide for their kids. The need is real. Many of our communities have struggled with profound enrollment declines over the last 20 years, which have undermined educational quality and caused property taxes to rise faster than Vermonters can afford.
“These are all our children, and we owe them the best we can provide, regardless of where they were born and in what town they live. And, when we invest in them today, we are investing in a stronger future for Vermont — a future with better educated, healthier and more employable Vermonters, and more resilient, independent and affordable communities.
“The law tries to balance the need to maintain local control while moving schools statewide toward greater economies of scale — a difficult balance in a rural state, in which small towns cherish small schools as the heart of their communities.”
DuPont noted how much individual towns are “both proud and protective of their domains,” while also observing that the current governance structure that makes each little school its own district can become unwieldy.
“There has to be some change and some consolidation, at least to governance,” said DuPont. “As a board member, you see the impracticality of all these boards and all these meetings. It’s just really, really difficult.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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