Orwell to revote Tuesday on school governance unification

ORWELL — Orwell residents will return to the polls this Tuesday, June 21, to decide whether their town should join five Rutland County communities in forming a unified Slate Valley Unified Union School District (SVUUSD).
Orwell citizens back on April 12 voted 211 to 121 against joining Castleton, West Haven, Hubbardton, Benson and Fair Haven in a new SVUUSD that would be governed by a single, 18-member board presiding over a global education budget for all of the schools in the union. Those communities currently operate under the Addison-Rutland Supervisory Union (ARSU) umbrella.
Orwell was the only community in the ARSU that voted against the unification plan, proposed under Vermont’s Act 46.
A local resident successfully petitioned for the revote, which the Orwell School Board set for June 21.
Some unification opponents who have spoken at informational meetings on the topic in Orwell have expressed fears that school governance consolidation might become a precursor to closing of some of the rural schools in the new SVUUSD. Others have said they fear a potential loss of local control that unification might bring.
But supporters of Act 46 have pointed to potential financial savings through governance unification, and note communities that have not joined a unified school district by 2018 will be required by the state to do so anyway — and the Vermont Agency of Education could direct them to join a district that they might find be less palatable than the one they rejected.
The June 21 vote will be for Orwell residents only.
According to information on the ARSU website, a “yes” vote on Tuesday would bring:
• Property tax relief in the amount of 10 cents off the school property tax rate in the first year of the merger, followed by 8 cents in year two, 6 cents in year three, 4 cents in year four, and 2 cents in the fifth and final year of the transition.
• A transition grant of $130,000 to assist the communities in the creation of the new district.
• The ability to retain a combined total of $200,000 in small schools grants that would otherwise be at risk.
Locally, residents in the Addison Central, Addison Northwest and Rutland Northeast supervisory unions have already endorsed school governance unification referenda. Addison Northeast is heading toward a vote on the issue this November.
The ARSU has set up a special web page with more detailed information on the proposed education governance merger and its possible implications. That page can be found at www.arsu.org/?page_id=1740.
An informational meeting is slated for Monday, June 20, at 7 p.m., also at the Orwell Town Hall.
Polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the town hall. 

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