After Woodford vote, boards must wait and see

BENNINGTON — After Tuesday's Act 46 re-vote in Woodford failed to garner the needed 'Yes' votes to pass, the districts of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union will now have to wait and see what the secretary of education's vision is for the future of the district.

SVSU Superintendent Jim Culkeen said on Wednesday that every district in the SU has submitted a report to the State Board of Education outlining the efforts they have already made to comply with the 2015 education law, as required by Sec. 9 of Act 46, except for Woodford. Those reports were due by Dec. 26, but Woodford's school board decided to wait until after the vote, as the Section 9 reports are only required of unmerged districts. Culkeen said that his office is currently working with the Woodford board to draft that report, which will need to be approved by the board at a special meeting within the next few weeks.

Other than that, said Culkeen, there is little else to do for now but wait and see.

The Agency of Education's website lays out the next steps for unmerged districts Act 46. "Act 46, Sec. 10 requires the Secretary of Education to develop a proposal to realign districts into more sustainable models of governance to meet the goals set out in Act 46, Sec. 2," it reads. "The secretary will develop the proposal based on information gleaned from voluntary mergers, proposals from Unmerged Districts above (the aforementioned Section 9 reports), and from other resources. The secretary will propose changes to the extent necessary and in a manner that is possible and practicable for the region. The secretary will post the proposal on the Agency's website and present it to the State Board of Education by June 1, 2018."

After Holcombe releases her governance proposal, the Board of Education will put together the final statewide plan by Nov. 30. According to the law, the state board is directed to review the secretary's proposal and is authorized to take testimony and request additional information. This indicates that local communities will have some opportunity to respond after the secretary releases her report.

A person familiar with the law said in January that the most apparent options for the SVSU would be either, the "creation of a pre-K through six union elementary school district by merging the Bennington, Pownal, Shaftsbury, and Woodford Elementary School Districts, resulting in three districts in the SU - the union elementary school district, (Mount Anthony Union Middle and High School School District), and (North Bennington)," or simply that the districts remain as they are.

In order for the state to order a pre-K through 12 merger, as was voted on in November, either the law would need to change to give the state board the authority to create a modified union district, which it does not currently have, or North Bennington would need to no longer be a part of the Mount Anthony Union district. North Bennington, in its own Section 9 report, brought up the possibility of becoming a fully non-operating district alongside Arlington in the Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union, much as Sandgate is today. In order for North Bennington to leave MAU of its own volition, it would need to hold a vote in its community. If that passed, every other MAU member community would need to vote to allow them to leave.

When Woodford voted 'No,' it ended any remaining possibility of the local districts realizing the tax incentives that the legislature had promised to districts that voluntarily agreed to merge by Nov. 30 of last year. While the MAU merger wouldn't have met the criteria laid out in the law, as it would not have been approved until January, a group of legislators, including Alice Miller of Shaftsbury, were making efforts to amend the law so that Bennington, Shaftsbury, and Woodford would qualify for the incentives. Now, without the third town necessary to move the merger forward, those efforts seem to have been for naught.

Derek Carson can be reached at, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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