What is Act 46 and why should I care about it?
Act 46 is a law passed by the Vermont legislature in 2015, inspired by concerns about rising property taxes, declining student enrollments, and a growing achievement gap among students. It requires Vermont school districts to explore new governance structures.
The WCSU board organized a summer study committee, of representatives from each town, in June 2015, to research Act 46. In September 2015 a formal Act 46 Study Committee was appointed with equal numbers from each member town and voting members. Recognizing the far-reaching nature of any recommendation to change the nearly fifty-year-old governance structure, committee members determined that a final recommendation would require the support of a supermajority—nine of the 11 voting members. The committee could not agree on a recommendation that was supported by the required supermajority, after eighteen months of work. The committee disbanded.
In its final report the study committee concluded that while there was widespread agreement in the need for improvement in educational efforts to eliminate or minimize long-standing differences in outcomes as well as increased efforts to coordinate curriculum and services, sharing resources and streamlining the number of regular meetings that administrators and board members must attend, the committee just could not agree on the following:
1. Educational governance which involves where the authority lays for budgeting, hiring, and movement of staff and all school operations
2. Finance—specifically property ownership and indebtedness
In a March 14th letter to VT Agency of Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe, WCSU Act 46 Study Committee Chair Flor Diaz-Smith said the committee concluded it is not advisable for the five WCSU districts to merge because it was unable to agree upon a governance model. She also stated that, “through our work over the past eighteen months we have learned much about the needs and objectives of our communities and about the WCSU as a whole.”
With no committee, a backup plan kicks in: each of the five towns will submit a report to the State Board of Education, outlining their town’s specific preferences for how the Act should look. The towns have until November to do so.
All five town school boards are either planning Act 46 Forums in the near future (see page one) or in the case of Doty and East Montpelier have already held Act 46 Forums prior to our print date.
The boards are reaching out to townspeople to explain what has happened with the WCSU Act 46 Study Committee and what some options are. The boards say it is very important for them to know what direction townspeople want to follow.
And there is a short timetable. Plans must be submitted to the Agency of Education by November 30, 2017.
At its April 10th meeting, the East Montpelier school board voted to write articles of agreement to support a consolidated district model. The board tasked their board chair with reaching out to the other four boards to find out what the other board stances are.
Boards are urging citizen participation. One board says: The choices we make now could affect:
- the quality of our children’s education;
- how much you pay for it; and
- how much influence you and your neighbors will have over these decisions in the future.
The decisions made today will affect us all for many years to come, so it’s important to share your opinions now.
To inform: To provide residents with balanced, objective information regarding the issues, opportunities, and alternatives regarding Act 46.
To involve: To learn what values, hopes, and concerns the community holds regarding these options, to help inform the school board’s next steps.
We need your input:
What do you feel are most important qualities and values for the school board to incorporate into their governance model proposal?
You will be able to:
- Learn about Act 46 and your town’s options.
- Have small-group conversations with neighbors about important issues affecting your town.
- Offer your opinion (if you want to).
- Hear back from the school board about how your opinions will be considered and incorporated.