Decision Point: FWSU Act 46 Study Reaches Crossroad

act-46After 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?

Photo Credit: Joel Lehman, St. Albans Messenger

Photo Credit: Joel Lehman, St. Albans Messenger

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.

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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.

BFA HS

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.

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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.

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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).

 

FWSU Act 46 School Unification Study Committee Commences

Last Thursday the FWSU Act 46 Study Committee held its inaugural meeting at Georgia Elementary Middle School. Act 46, a landmark piece of legislation passed during the last years legislative session, has finally arrived at FWSU. Act 46 is a new law that seeks to address large issues currently facing the Vermont education system. The primary stated objective of the law is to stabilize rising property taxes, address declining student enrollment, and high per-pupil spending.

Act 46 will require the state’s 277 school districts to begin the process of redesigning the current governance structures in order to achieve what the state defines as “preferred governance.” A preferred governance structure is a new school district with at least 900 students, which will be called Supervisory Districts (SD). Essentially the Supervisory Union structure, established in 1912, will be replaced. The new SD’s will operate in the same manner as a single stand alone district (i.e. Burlington, Montpelier, Milton, Colchester), yet will comprise more than one town. The new law asks us to redefine how we view our school community and take a more comprehensive view that all students in our region are our students.

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Prior to any district even considering consolidation they must undertake a comprehensive study. This fall FWSU school boards voted to begin an Act 46 school consolidation study. The boards then sought community volunteers to join board members to form the FWSU Study Committee. That committee, comprised of community members and board members, will study our system, study Act 46, engage the community and make a recommendation as to how our schools will be governed in the future. It is completely unclear what that recommendation of the committee will be at this time.

act46cmteThe members of the committee are:

Teresa Bedell – Fairfax
Karen Hebert – Farifax
Rachelle LeVau – Fairfax
Scott Mitchell – Fairfax
*Todd Baumeister – Fletcher
Diane Dayvie – Fletcher
Carl Laroe, Jr. – Georgia
Ben Chiappinelli – Georgia
Michael Wasco – Georgia
Deb Woodward – Georgia

*elected chair

As a community member in FWSU, your voice and involvement in the process matters! The committee will be meeting every two weeks on a rotating basis in Georgia, Fletcher and Fairfax. The next meeting of the committee will take place on February 11 at BFA Fairfax in the multi-purpose room starting at 5:30pm. If you cannot make the meeting, you can watch a live stream of the meeting. The live stream address will be posted in Schoology and on the FWSU webpage the day of the meeting. In addition, all future meeting dates and minutes will be posted after each meeting. Information about Act 46 can be found on both Schoology and the FWSU website. If you would like to contact the committee, please email act46study@fwsu.org.

The next few months should be very interesting. It is essential to know that any consolidation of school districts in FWSU would require a town-wide vote by each town. This is not a decision that a school board or committee can make independently. The committee will only recommend what the towns ultimately vote on, if they decide to vote at all. Districts that do not merge by 2018 run the risk of being assigned to a new district by the State Board of Education and will receive no tax incentive. Schools that do not operate high schools like Georgia and Fletcher cannot be made to lose choice by the State Board, that can only be accomplished by a vote of the town electorate. However, that school could be reassigned to merger with schools with similar configurations.


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If you have questions you contact Superintendent Ned Kirsch at nkirsch@fwsu.org or by phone at (802) 370-3113. You can also contact the committee via email at act46study@fwsu.org.