ENOSBURGH — Voters from the towns of Bakersfield, Berkshire, Montgomery, Enosburgh and Richford unanimously shot down the proposed Act 46 merger of the five school districts Tuesday.
The votes were:
• Bakersfield 99-89;
• Berkshire 113-78;
• Montgomery 219-52;
• Enosburgh 158-82;
• Richford 207-60.
In every town but Montgomery, turnout was below 20 percent, with Enosburgh having the lowest, just 11.7 percent. Montgomery had the greatest turnout, 31 percent.
Montgomery currently pays tuition for its students to attend a number of high schools including Stanstead Academy in Quebec. A merger would have limited that choice to just three schools. One of the lowest spending schools in the state, Montgomery would have received the least tax relief from the merger.
Concerns were also expressed about the loss of the local school board, which would have been replaced by a board with members from all five towns.
Bakersfield stood to gain the most financially, with double-digit reductions in its tax rate. While merger would have meant the end of high school tuition, students would still have had access to the two schools they most often attend – Enosburg Falls High School and Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans.
The districts still have merger options before 2018.
All five school districts could consider full unification a second time.
The school districts could look, again, at a side-by-side merger with Enosburgh and Richford on one side and Montgomery, Berkshire and Bakersfield on the other.
The first two school districts have their own high schools while the other three school districts pay tuition for their high school students.
Since the accelerated merger failed Tuesday, all five school districts are now allowed to consider merging with school districts and supervisory unions outside the Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union (FNESU).
Bakersfield could look at merging with Maple Run School District, which includes St. Albans City, St. Albans Town and Fairfield. Montgomery could consider joining up with North Country Supervisory Union.
Bakersfield, Berkshire and Montgomery could also look at merging with other K through 8 school districts in order to keep school choice.
The Unification Study Committee and FNESU will not receive another $20,000 grant from the state to study these other potential merger options and would have to pay for all legal and other professional services themselves.
By not approving the accelerated merger Tuesday, taxpayers lost some of the tax incentives provided by the state. The five towns will not receive ten cents off their tax rates for FY17. If the towns merge by next year, they will receive a total of 20 cents off their tax rates, spread out over a total of four years.
Any school districts that have not merged by 2018 will be required, under the law, to demonstrate to the State Board of Education how they can meet the educational goals of Act 46 without merging.
Should it fail to successfully make its case, the state board will require the district to merge with another district or districts. The only limitation is that the board cannot require a school to give up high school choice.
Any districts not merging by 2018 will lose the transition grant of $130,000 to help facilitate a smooth unification, any small schools grants they currently receive and all of the tax incentives.