GNAT-TV News Project
ARLINGTON — A merger study group to explore a combination of three small school districts which don’t operate a school within their town boundaries has been formed, which could eventually lead to another combination with the Arlington School District.
On Thursday, Aug. 3, representatives from the school districts of Winhall, Stratton and Sandgate met at the Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union offices in Sunderland and agreed to send a letter to the state’s education agency seeking recognition as a merger study group, along with a state Act 46 merger grant. The representatives, who named Dean Gianotti of Winhall as the chairman of the group, also voted to hire Dr. Daniel French, who was previously the superintendent of the Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union until 2016, as a consultant to assist them as they go through the Act 46 merger study process.
The Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union, which currently includes the towns of Arlington and Sandgate, will serve as the Financial Agent, according to an email from William Bazyk, the interim superintendent of the BVSU.
“This initial meeting was very positive and the the concerns each town had about merging into a single district to join the BSRU by no means seem insurmountable,” Bazyk stated in an email sent to GNAT.
The study group hopes to complete ts review of the issues involved in creating the new three town entity by the end of the month and has scheduled more meetings for Aug. 16 and 22 at the Manchester Elementary Middle School to discuss next steps.
Setting tuition rates evenly across the proposed new district and the transportation obligations of the new district were among the key topics discussed on Aug. 3, Bazyk said.
If the three “non-operating” towns agree to a merger, that could pave the way for them to form a so-called “3×1” school district with Arlington under Act 49, successor legislation crafted after the passage of Act 46 in 2015, the state’s landmark consolidation statute. Act 49 is designed to give school districts without obvious consolidation partners more flexibility to form combinations that would have been more problematic under the original guidelines of Act 46.
Arlington’s school district is also grappling with its options under the state mandate to find consolidation partners under Act 46 and is working on a merger study as well. At their last school board meeting in July, they noted the possibility of Sandgate, Stratton and Winhall forming a merger study group, which, once formed, might give them the option of joining the three towns and becoming a “3 by 1” entity, which would then become part of the Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union, with the Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union dissolving. A “3 by 1” would offer a pathway for Arlington to continue operating its existing preK-12 schools. Another possible scenario was for Arlington to become a so-called “choice” town for its grades 9-12, and tuition its students to other secondary schools.
Officials from Burr and Burton Academy recently sent a letter to the Arlington school board, indicating their interest in discussing having Arlington students attend Burr and Burton Academy.
Decisions on both the 3×1 study group and the choice option were put on hold by Arlington school district officials pending the decisions by the three smaller towns. Assuming the state confers approval on the three town merger group, the possibility opens for Arlington’s school district to go forward with its own merger study which could result in a link up of the four towns.
Sandgate, Stratton and Winhall don’t currently operate public schools of their own. The Mountain School in Winhall, currently an independent school formed in the late 1990s following the passage of Act 60, the state’s education finance law, had been the town’s public elementary school, but voters approved transforming it into a private academy in response to the controversies surrounding Act 60 and the ushering in of a statewide property tax.
However, no matter what route the Arlington School District pursues, it will not be eligible for merger tax incentives. The three other towns will if the 3 x 1 goes through, Bazyk said.