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The Commons
Voices / Viewpoint

In support of a single, unified voice

New efficiencies in a single district will produce savings. Equity of education would be achieved more successfully.

Shaun Murphy represents Guilford on the Brattleboro Union High School District #6 School Board.

Originally published in The Commons issue #432 (Wednesday, November 1, 2017). This story appeared on page D1.



On Nov. 7, residents from Putney, Dummerston, Brattleboro, and Guilford will vote on whether the four town school districts should be merged into one unified district.

I am on the ballot as a two-year “at large” director, should the district be approved, and would like to request your support on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

I urge registered voters of the towns of Putney, Dummerston, Guilford and Brattleboro to vote “yes” to achieve a single unified educational district.

The vote is to determine if the four towns will comply with the Act 46 state-education law. The law was enacted based on demographic realities that Vermont is experiencing. Statewide, and locally, school enrollment numbers have declined 22 percent in recent years.

Education spending per pupil has increased because of shrinking student numbers. Educational equity has become challenging in all our schools.

The Act 46 Study Committee, comprised of school board members of the four towns, has been meeting since the law was passed to craft articles of agreement. This agreement would solidify how the four towns’ school governance would be defined should a merger be approved.

The articles of agreement include very specific directions pertaining to a school closure. The implementation date, if the vote is in favor of unification, would be July 1, 2019. No school closure could happen under any circumstances for five years. Then there would be one year of study and public input. This would place the earliest school closure at July 1, 2025.

It is not the intent of the law to close town schools. The only legitimate reason would be a decline in the student enrollment to such a small number that it would be unavoidable. The likelihood of this happening is extremely remote. No town anticipates that their school population will shrink to a couple of dozen students.

* * *

Act 46 includes financial implications. If the voters agree to a merger, a $150,000 transition grant will go to the district. There would be an education tax reduction for property owners over a four-year period equal to 20 cents on the education tax rate. This would represent about a $400 reduction on a $200,000 home over four years.

If the merger does not pass, the small-schools grant in the towns of Dummerston and Guilford — about $50,000 per town annually — will be in jeopardy.

New efficiencies in a single district will produce savings. There would be one employer instead of four. A single district would have one district-wide educational tax rate for all towns.

Staff within the district would all work for the single entity. Equity of education would be achieved more successfully. The unified district would comply with Vermont law.

* * *

The articles of agreement clearly require leadership councils at every school in the four towns. Directors from the unified board would be responsive to the councils and report concerns and information to the nine-member board. Putney, Dummerston, and Guilford would each have one director on the unified board. Brattleboro would have four. Two “at large” directors could come from any of the four towns.

I am a strong advocate of public education. It is imperative that we continue to provide the best education possible for all students in our towns facing the challenge of declining enrollment and increased per-pupil cost.

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