Act 46 Study Committee supports accelerated merger

After months of discussions and meetings, the Chittenden South Supervisory Union Act 46 Study Committee supports the merger of the school districts that comprise CSSU based on the financial and educational benefits.

The push for the accelerated merger came during a CSSU Act 46 Study Committee meeting on April 12. The meeting was held at Champlain Valley Union High School and was attended by educators, board members from CSSU districts, and parents who listened to a 90-minute presentation on the benefits of the merger.

Colleen MacKinnon, Chairwoman of the CSSU Act 46 Study Committee, and a member of the Hinesburg Community School Board, spearheaded the presentation. She gave an overview of the mechanics of the merger and how a newly-consolidated school district would function.

Jeanne Jensen of Williston, a former member of the CVU Board, and Act 46 Study Committee member, told the group about the financial benefits of the merger, noting that each of the towns in CSSU, Shelburne, Charlotte, Williston, Hinesburg and St. George, would see monetary savings in the first year of the consolidation. She also outlined the five-year tax incentives communities would experience if the consolidation was fully operational by July 1, 2017.

MacKinnon also reviewed the benefit of a slimmed-down school board. Currently, CSSU has 34 school board members who sit on the CVU and CSSU boards. The new board would be made up of 12 elected officials, with four members from Williston; three from Shelburne; two each from Charlotte and Hinesburg and one from St. George. If St. George rejected the consolidation, the panel would have 11 members. The board’s representation would be based on population.

Joe Ng of Charlotte, who is a frequent attendee at Charlotte School Board meetings, expressed concern about Williston’s representation on the new proposed board. “Does that have a perception of stacking the board, if they have four, and others have two? That’s one concern I would think citizens would ask,” he said. “They could potentially make decisions that are based on the size of their district,” Ng also worried about the length of consolidated board meetings. He pointed out that at times a single school board meeting can last two or three hours, would a consolidated board meeting run even longer?

Act 46 Study Committee member Mark McDermott, Chairman of the Charlotte Community School Board, said “That’s something we thought about”. He suggested that the proposed board would resemble the CVU Board and felt that board meetings would likely be a little longer, but not too much.

Keith Roberts, Chairman of the Hinesburg School Board and committee member, explained the “proportional representation” was chosen, citing that it’s “the most legally defensible model.” He said the numbers are based on census figures that would be studied and adjusted every 10 years, “So those numbers are not set in stone”.

If the new merger is approved by voters existing school boards from each CSSU district would remain intact until the newly-elected panel was in place and trained. Other benefits include moving away from voting on individual school spending plans, as well as ones for CVU and CSSU, to considering one budget. Also, it’s likely that if a particular building sited in one town would require a bond to fix needed repairs, payments would be spread across all members of the proposed, consolidated district, rather than one school district bearing the cost of a bond. It’s also thought that all of the school buildings spread throughout the proposed consolidated district were in need of repair.

Elaine Pinckney, superintendent of CSSU Schools, pointed out that the consolidation would afford principals enhanced interaction with faculty, ensuring quality education for students. “These are all of our kids… This is what makes this such a strong SU,” said MacKinnon.

All CSSU boards will meet on April 26 at CVU. Act 46 Study committee members encouraged anyone interested in running for the newly consolidated school board to attend. Petitions to run for the proposed board will be available from town clerks.

Towns in the CSSU are slated to vote on the merger on June 7. Information on the Act 46 proposed merger can be found on the CSSU web site.