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The Commons
Voices / Letters from readers

Can we have a healthy and fruitful discussion about Act 46?

Originally published in The Commons issue #404 (Wednesday, April 19, 2017).

Is it time to have a different kind of Act 46 Meeting?

Act 46 was intended to encourage school districts to merge in order to help reduce taxes and provide additional educational opportunities in the face of declining enrollments. Many of you have attended numerous meetings and many ideas have been considered to find an acceptable solution to comply with this new mandate.

The early decision by the WSESU Act 46 Study Committee to pursue the accelerated merger offered apparent tax benefits and transition grants that would help fund any reorganization.

Resistance from the community to the idea of a merger proposal led to the one pro-school-choice member school withdrawing from the Study Committee. This withdrawal led to the committee missing its deadline for presenting their proposal to the towns for a vote.

This early defeat represented the first of what was to become a series of setbacks for the committee to be able to present a merger proposal to the towns for a vote. Continuing resistance to merger alternatives has brought the committee and its work to a standstill.

While the State Board of Education and the Agency of Education are being asked to review our committee’s proposal and suggest what the next steps for them (and us) should be. There might be a very good opportunity now for school board members to step back, take a breath, and come together for another kind of discussion on Act 46.

In the language of the law, along with merger alternatives, there is an option that provides for alternative governance structures. Ironically, this is defined as a supervisory union, the governance structure under which we now operate. It has worked well for us for many years, and perhaps, with some modifications, it could continue to help us better meet the goals of the act without giving up our local voice.

To be accurate, any plan that is basically not a merger concept is considered an “alternative structure.” These plans are based on a “self-study,” which can be carried out only by each school board to demonstrate how they can meet the stated goals. These alternative structures can be put together by small schools working with other small schools whether or not they are a part of a supervisory union.

Perhaps school board members who have not been a part of the Study Committee struggling with this Act 46 mandate should be invited to gather with members of the public to share ideas and concerns to see if new solutions might be found.

Whatever our respective situations are, whether we have formed a committee or not, rejected a merger vote or not, what we all have in common is that we currently have no agreed-upon plan for moving forward.

Hopefully, those who read this letter and find yourselves in this reorganization limbo will avail yourselves of an opportunity for an open meeting to have a healthy and fruitful discussion as to how we might find solutions that work for us all.

Richard Virkstis

East Dummerston

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