After 10 months of exploring consolidation options for all schools in FWSU, the Act 46 Study Committee has reached a crossroad. At their meeting tomorrow night at BFA Fairfax, the committee will choose one direction to move forward. The committee’s job is to conduct an exhaustive study of all potential options under Act 46 and come to a decision on one option to recommend to the FWSU member towns. The committee has no ability to limit, change, or add to any of our current school district configurations. The committee has considered many options since January and has worked extensively to study two options in subcommittees since June. The question to be answered Thursday is which road will they recommend to Fairfax, Fletcher, and Georgia voters?
Option #1: Fairfax/Fletcher Merger with Georgia as a Stand-Alone District
The first option the committee studied is a merger between Fairfax and Fletcher. This option is referred to in the law as a Regional Education District (RED) merger. This option would consolidate two separate school districts into one PreK-12 education system. There would be no plan to close schools, but Fletcher students would no longer be able to access school choice as they presently do. However, students would be able to access school choice through Act 129, an option available to all students in Vermont passed in May 2012 by the Vermont Legislature (Act 129, Sec. 34. § 822d 2A). Residents of Fletcher and Fairfax would receive four years of tax incentives under this arrangement.
This option would require Georgia to seek approval from the VT State Board of Education to be allowed to form an Alternative Structure (stand-alone district). The State Board has stated that the preferred structure of schools in Vermont is 900 students or a grade K-12 environment. Georgia does not meet either requirement as a K-8 district with 860 students; this does not necessarily mean that the request will be denied. A stand-alone model would expose Georgia to a possible merger with other K-8 towns that do not operate a high school by the State Board of Education in 2018.
It is important to remember that BOTH the communities of Fairfax and Fletcher would have to vote yes for this merger option to take effect. Since Georgia would be seeking an alternative structure as a stand-alone district, the Georgia community would not vote on this merger option. View slides presented by the subcommittee to learn more about this proposal.
Option #2: FWSU Three-Town Unification
Option two is a full unification of all three-member towns of FWSU. If recommended by the committee to the communities, this option would only be possible if all three-member towns vote yes on the merger. What makes this option tricky is that it would involve constructing a new high school to serve all FWSU students. If unification was to occur by majority favorable vote in all of our communities, the total population of the new FWSU single district would be larger than the capacity of BFA Fairfax High School. Under this proposal, all three towns would receive four years of tax incentives.
Preliminary research has determined such an endeavor would be cost-neutral compared with current per-pupil spending on high school education among all three member districts. Further study would be required to determine the siting and location for a new high school. The concept of a new high school includes building a state-of-the-art program, not replicating existing high schools throughout Vermont. Learn more about this proposal by viewing the slides presented by the subcommittee.
At the Crossroad
Both options being studied are complex and have both plusses and minuses, as well as many lingering questions. Again, both options require positive votes from our communities later in the spring to move forward. Please check the FWSU webpage for minutes, agendas and video of all Act 46 meetings (http://www.fwsu.org/act-46).