Consolidation Proposals in Vermont


Last Updated: February 25, 2010
 

This article appeared in the February 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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Two companion bills have been introduced in the Vermont legislature to reduce the number of school governing units to 14­–16 regional districts, each with a single superintendent and a single school board. Vermont currently has nearly 400 districts in a variety of configurations, including configurations through which districts share superintendents and other resources but maintain local school boards and local governance.

A third bill that would require districts to discuss consolidation and it would provide incentives for voluntary consolidation.

That bill would also change the state funding system, replacing the statewide education tax on residential property, but not commercial and residential property, with local property taxes for schools.

Vermont’s current school finance system is widely considered one of the most equitable in the nation. Its statewide property tax provides access to the state’s property wealth for all districts. Since the system was implemented, resources and achievement have risen significantly in Vermont’s poorest school districts. See the Rural Trust reports A Reasonably Equal Share: Educational Equity in Vermont) and Update on Educational Equity in Vermont for more information.

In January the State Board of Education endorsed a sweeping consolidation plan outlined in a board-appointed commission report entitled, "Opportunity to Learn: Defining Vermont Education for a New Generation of Learners."

"The main reason for doing that is to give students more educational opportunities and choice," said Ruth Stokes of Williston, the Board's vice chairman, of the decision to endorse a reduction in the number of districts. "We feel these larger districts will be able to coordinate curriculum, offer more educational choices."

Vermont Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca is also supporting mandatory consolidation, saying that requiring school supervisory unions to unify their services and curriculum is a step toward cutting costs and finding efficiencies in Vermont's public schools.

Supporters of school districts cite a loss of democratic involvement when local school authority is centralized, a lack of evidence of significant cost savings, and the benefits of small schools for students as reasons to maintain Vermont’s highly successful system.

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Read coverage of legislative and administrative action here:

Read commentary by national school finance expert and long-time Rural Trust consultant William Mathis here:

Read more from the February 2010 Rural Policy Matters