RNeSU to vote on school governance issue

BRANDON — The Rutland Northeast Act 46 Study Committee has decided to send the question of local school governance consolidation to the voters in each of the six district towns, plus Mendon and Chittenden, next month.
The committee was formed in September in order to examine the options and feasibility associated with the Act 46 consolidation bill passed by the Legislature in May. The bill is designed to encourage towns to consolidate school governance in order to streamline management, pool resources and create efficiencies. Those districts that complete the process by July 1, 2016, receive a $130,000 state transition grant and tax incentives.
RNeSU Superintendent Jeanne Collins said that if voters in Brandon, Pittsford, Goshen, Leicester, Whiting and Sudbury approve the measure, the Otter Valley Unified Union School District would be created serving pre-K through 12th grade. In addition, if Mendon and Chittenden voters approve their measure, the Barstow joint agreement would be dissolved to create the Barstow Unified Union School District, covering pre-K through 12th grade. The new district would operate the Barstow pre-K through 8th grade with tuition choice for students in grades 9-12.
Collins said the committee decided to forge ahead with an earlier January vote in order to separate it from the March school budget votes and make it easier to navigate for voters.
“We’re ready because the committee has been meeting since September and the consolidation plan has to go to the state Board of Education by December,” she said. “We’re ready. The committee felt it would be better to separate the two issues. Then the March vote would be just the unified union school budget, if the January vote passes.”
The vote is being warned for Jan. 19, 2016. All six towns in the OV district would have to approve the article in order for consolidation to go forward. Once approved, the existing boards and districts would have a year to close out while the new board and district transitions into place.
Collins said the new Otter Valley Unified Union District board would be a 13-member board broken down as follows:
•  One member each from Goshen, Leicester, Whiting and Sudbury.
•  Two members from Pittsford.
•  Three members from Brandon.
•  Four at-large members from any of the six towns.
The Barstow Unified Union School District Board would be a four-member board made up of:
•  One member from Mendon.
•  Two members from Chittenden.
•  One at-large member from either town.
A Jan. 19 date was chosen to give ample time before town reports are sent out in the run-up to Town Meeting Day, Collins said, adding that she hopes all voters will see the value of creating the new districts by the July 1, 2016, deadline.
In addition to the $130,000 transition grant, all member towns stand to see an 8-cent tax rate reduction, Small School grants will remain in effect, and the new district would not be penalized by the state for reductions in equalized pupils.
Several public information meetings will be held in the coming weeks. In addition, petitions for candidates to the unified union school board must be submitted locally by Dec. 14.
“I think this is an exciting opportunity for towns in Rutland Northeast to build upon our community values and our commitment to each other and to all of our kids,” Collins said. “I’m hopeful that our success in almost six decades of collaboration under the Otter Valley charter and the Barstow agreement will be carried through in the creation of these unified union districts.”

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