Opinion: ANwSU seeks input on Act 46

Act 46 was signed into law in June in response to challenges of educational inequity and rising cost per student. A driving force behind the concerns has been the widespread decline in student enrollment in many of our schools. The state goals of Act 46 are to:
• Provide substantial equity in the quality and variety of educational opportunities.
• Lead students to achieve or exceed the state’s Education Quality Standards.
• Maximize operational efficiencies through increased flexibility to manage, share, and transfer resources, with the goal of increasing the district-level ratio of students to full-time equivalent staff.
• Promote transparency and accountability.
• Deliver education at a cost that parents, voters and taxpayers value.
The bill proposes to put Vermont in a position to better address those challenges, in part through the creation of somewhat larger school districts. In other words, it contemplates supervisory unions such as the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union (ANwSU) becoming a single school district with a single board.
The law encourages districts and supervisory unions to figure out together how to best achieve these changes. It provides incentives and disincentives for action or inaction. And it ultimately provides for the state Board of Education to realign Vermont’s school districts in 2019, in those areas where action has not been taken by local boards and electorates.
The law creates substantial incentives for supervisory unions to act quickly to convert from an SU model to a single unified district. If all districts in a current SU vote by July 1, 2016, to unify by July 1, 2017, all towns receive a variety of tax and other financial incentives.
The ANwSU is well-situated to take advantage of the maximum incentives. The districts of the ANwSU have worked closely together for decades, creating Vergennes Union High School in 1959 and Vergennes Union Elementary School in 1989. Over the past decade, we have attempted unification into a single district and have come close.
This is not a new concept. Following the passage of Act 46, the ANwSU and its member boards voted unanimously in August to create an Act 46 Study Committee to “analyze the advisability of forming a union school district under Act 46” and to do so within a timeframe that will allow member districts to consider the proposal at the 2016 town meeting. This was done in the belief that students and taxpayers of the member towns deserve the opportunity to consider the costs and benefits of creating such a district within a timeframe that provides maximum benefits.
It is also done in the belief that we are far better off designing a unified district on our own terms, rather than having the state design it for us. The Act 46 Study Committee is committed to taking the long view. Considering unification must not only be about short-term savings or tax breaks, but must be focused on the sustainability of high quality education over the long-run.
The committee has been looking at the benefits and challenges of unification, educationally and financially, and has been developing the Articles of Agreement that would guide unification should we decide to go in that direction. The committee encourages parents, students, teachers and citizens to pay close attention to the work of the committee and to the options that are available and to offer your perspectives to members of the committee.
The committee is hosting three community forums for formal input. The first was held in Vergennes on Oct. 28. The second was scheduled for Addison Central School on Dec. 1. The third will be in Ferrisburgh at the Ferrisburgh Elementary School on Dec. 14. All three are scheduled from 6-8 p.m.
Second, the committee seeks community input at its remaining regular meetings. The next such meeting is scheduled at Vergennes Union High School on Dec. 10 from 6-8 p.m. Finally, we ask that you send your ideas, suggestions and questions to JoAn Canning, Superintendent of Schools, [email protected]. We welcome your ideas as we complete our work.  Thanks for your ongoing concern and investment in the education of the students of our five town region.
JoAn Canning
Superintendent of Schools
ANwSU
Vergennes

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