- Over the past few years, 157 Vermont school districts have consolidated into 39 new unified districts as the state’s student population continues to shrink, and now the state’s acting Education Secretary Heather Bouchey is recommending consolidation of 18 more districts, under a 2015 law, according to the Bennington Banner.
- Her report, released last week, also referenced 25 other districts where consolidation was a possibility, recommending against mergers in 22 additional districts with no recommendations for the other three. The consolidation law encouraged districts to voluntarily merge and included tax reductions and other assistance to help districts consolidate.
- As part of the process, school boards that did not want to merge had to submit proposals for how they would continue to “meet or exceed state goals,” and the state board of education will make a final decision on Bouchey’s recommendations in late November.
Even with additional state resources to encourage consolidation, district mergers can be an emotionally charged and politically divisive issue. While the benefits of consolidation include being able to hire teachers with expertise in special content areas and having a large enough teaching staff so educators can share practices with each other, a recent article from AASA, The School Superintendents Association, also reviewed some of the downsides. Merging with larger districts can increase transportation and salary costs, discourage family engagement and lead to teachers feeling less-positive about their schools, the authors wrote.
Overall, however, the article’s authors recommend that districts with fewer than 1,500 students merge with one neighboring district, based on research showing that a consolidation would lead to substantial savings and can contribute to higher student performance. Consolidation also raises equity issues and can “enhance the fairness of a state’s education finance system,” they write.
For small, rural districts that want to remain independent, another recent article highlights some of the practices that districts in New York are using to “stretch to survive.” These include participating in a professional development community organized by the State University of Albany, having access to accurate data from the New York State Center for Rural Schools and even recruiting international exchange students.
“Small success stories in the state, and the improving ability of schools to utilize distance learning technology in order to increase curriculum offerings, are important indications of the smaller rural and remote schools in the state implementing models of practice for other states and schools,” the researchers write.