In November 2018, Vermont’s State Board of Education voted 7-2 to dissolve fifty of the state’s school districts and to create 18 new merged districts under Act 46, Lola Duffort reported for the VT Digger. Act 46 aims to increase equity across education in Vermont and to make governance throughout the state’s districts more productive. The Board’s vote left 46 existing school districts as they were. As Duffort reported, “The board’s actions conclude a sweeping governance reform initiated in 2015 when the Legislature first passed the controversial consolidation law.” The new districts will be officially presented online, on maps, starting July 1, 2019, after which the merging of districts will begin.
Two education board members, Vice Chair Bill Mathis and John Carroll, opposed mergers, arguing that there had been hardly any discussion of alternatives. In fact, it wasn’t just those two who disapproved of Act 46. As Duffort reported, the education board’s 7-2 vote did not reflect the community as a whole. Instead, many of the state’s school districts opposed it, and 27 districts even voted to sue the state if it forced merger, as Margaret MacLean, a leading member of Vermonters for Schools and Community, a coalition fighting the forced mergers, told VT Digger. Several communities, Duffort reported, had considered shutting down their schools in order to oppose being forced to merge with other districts.
Those who were for consolidating districts, Duffort reported, argued that mergers “would bring better opportunities for students in an era of shrinking enrollment.”
There were two efforts to voluntarily merge districts, in 2010 and 2012, that included tax incentives, but barely any districts took up the offer and merged.
As of November 28, 2018, there has been no national media coverage about school district mergers in Vermont. This lack of reporting on education policy at the state level could be attributed to a belief that changes taking place in a single state—let alone one as small as Vermont—do not merit national attention because they do not influence the nation as a whole. Thus, stories such as this one are reported as local concerns. Most of the sources reporting on this change in Vermont have been independent news outlets based in the state, like the VT Digger. Those who will be most impacted by this decision, teachers and students, were not given a voice in the education board’s vote or in the coverage of the story.
Lola Duffort, “State Board of Education Adopts Final Act 46 Plan,” VT Digger, November 28, 2018, 28 Nov. 2018, https://vtdigger.org/2018/11/28/state-board-education-adopts-final-act-46-plan/.
Student Researchers: Brooke Buchalter, Patrick Flynn and Kayla Timmins (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)