Frequently Asked Questions
district, union district, supervisory union? Which one are we, and what
is the difference?
are all three. Each town has an elementary school, and that is the
"school district" with its own school board. St. Albans City and Town
are also members of Union District No. 48 (USHD-48) which consists of
Bellows Free Academy/Northwest Technical Center. It also has its own
school board with proportional representation from St. Albans City and
Town. The school districts and UHSD-48 make up the FCSU, which has its
own board made up of three representatives each from the school
district and USHD-48 boards. It oversees the "central office" services
for all districts, such as the superintendent, special education, K-12
curriculum development, and business services.
would governance unification (also known as the accelerated merger)
change that set-up?
than five boards, the school system would have just one board and one
budget for all of the operations. The four school districts (three
towns and UHSD-48) would become one school district.
would that school board look like and how would it be formed?
The law states that the New Unified School Board must have
proportional representation based on population Using the 210 census,
this means that there must be four votes from St. Albans Town, four
votes from St. Albans City and one vote from Fairfield. The study
committee has decided to go with two representatives from Fairfield
with ½ vote each, ensuring their voice can be heard among the board,
thus creating a ten member board with nine votes. Because they are
creating a unified Board that will be working for the benefit of all
communities the Committee has chosen to have those candidates elected
from a ballot regardless of town designation. Each of the three
communities would vote on all of the Unified Board candidates.
(Select two from Fairfield, four from City, four from Town.)
Why are we doing this now?
It's the law. While
merging into one school district has many good reasons, the
Legislature, when it passed Act 46, provided significant financial
incentives for Supervisory Unions that have recently studied mergers
and already have a governance structure that is conducive to
unification, including: a reduction in property tax rates of 10 cents
the first year, 8 cents the second, and declining for five years to
zero ;and a $150,000 grant to help with the process.
Does "unification" mean merging
and closing some down?
No. It refers to merging governance (school boards), budgets
and operations. It does not speak to closing or expanding schools.
is the process to make the unification happen?
unification would require a ballot vote in each town, probably on Town
Meeting Day 2016. Before that happens, there would be a vigorous public
education and public engagement effort by school board members and
school officials in each of the towns open to all. At the same time,
the Committee, as called for under state statute, is working on
Articles of Agreement for the district that would address many issues,
such as dealing with each school district's long-term debt, ownership
of property and assets such as school buildings, board representation,
etc. A draft of the Articles of Agreement would be available well
before the vote.
happens if we decide not to do this?
46 calls for the Secretary of Education to assign school districts to a
larger school district by 2018 unless that smaller district can present
a compelling case to remain independent. Because our school system
already has a unified high school, it is logical that the Secretary of
Education could require the merger of the FCSU schools into one
district anyway, but without all of the incentives provided under the
accelerated merger plan.
What happens if one town votes
against merging with the larger district?
FCSU Act 46 Study Committee believes a single, Unified Union district,
is the preferred option. Therefore, all three districts,
Fairfield, St. Albans City and St. Albans Town are considered
"necessary" for the formation of a new district.
Are there assurances that
our small elementary school will not be closed?
If all three
districts vote "yes," then a single Unified Union district is formed
covering all three communities. Taxpayers in all three communities will
receive the tax incentives.
If any one town votes "no", then no
change to governance would occur and Franklin Central Supervisory Union
would continue with its four current member school districts (St.
Albans City, St. Albans Town, Fairfield, and BFA Union #48). No
tax incentives would be available.
can mean savings through streamlined operations so
larger school district can continue to provide all students and
communities with the education system that works best for them.
Unification would not mean closure of schools, including Fairfield. In
reality, the unified district would provide a much stronger buffer
against tax rate
increases to the
Fairfield residents than they have now. Currently, small changes in
size of student population can have a big impact on the school
district's cost per pupil, and thus, a substantial increase in
rates. Unification would allow them to experience the benefits of the
larger pupil count, stabilizing their cost per pupil which will, in
turn stabilize the tax rate.
Where would the streamlining
savings come from?
A unification now would put the school
system in a much better financial situation to operate small schools
than without the incentives.
major example would be in business operations. Currently, the FCSU
business office must create five separate and duplicate budgets, have
five separate audits and provide regular financial reports to five
separate school boards. That takes an enormous amount of staff time. In
a merged district, it would be reduced to one budget, one audit and
reports to just one board.
There are many other opportunities
such as shared administrative staff, shared janitorial and food service
staff, and joint bids for services such as lawn mowing. The list of opportunities is long, and would be scrutinized
by the new unified board.
Without our local school boards,
who is running our schools?
the level of involvement in running schools varies from town to town,
state statute and the Vermont School Boards Association are clear that
boards are supposed to govern our schools, not manage them. So, schools
would be run by their principals and the superintendent, but governed
by the policies implemented by the board as is presently done.
unification would help make clear the lines of supervision, which are
not as clear today. Principals would run their schools and be
supervised by the superintendent. The superintendent would answer to
one board. Currently the situation is confusing for our school leaders.
Some principals feel like they answer to both their local board and the
superintendent, which creates conflict, and the superintendent, in
effect, answers to five boards. The character of our schools
will not change.
are the educational
advantages to a unification?
is where the list gets long. First and foremost, a unified school
district would help ensure that all students in the district receive an
equitable, quality education regardless of town of residence. It would
help ensure that each student entering BFA would arrive equally
prepared having received the same excellent opportunities.
would create a single school district and elected board responsible for
all grades, pre-K through twelve. The unified school board would assume
all of the responsibilities of the supervisory union.
A unified district could streamline the complicated school
board and administrative structure outlined above.
unified district could expand educational options for students (e.g.
sharing equipment, technology and staff, flexibility in building use).
unified district could provide cost savings in the operation of our
pre-K-12 schools. A few examples: one audited
statement instead of five; contract with a single provider for trash or
food service; eliminate billing back and forth for services provided by
one member district to another.
the FCSU, the timing of a unification vote coincides with the formation
of a unified strategic plan for all students in the three towns, under
the banner of a shared vision and mission.
A single school
district would allow for great flexibility and creativity to best serve
our students. Strict town borders would no longer be an issue and could
give each student the opportunity for the setting that works best.
With the end of our local board,
what role does the community have in our school?
culture of each school really isn't driven by the school board. It is
driven by dedicated parents and townspeople who take an active role in
their schools through parent organizations, by volunteering during the
school day and for after-school activities, by sponsoring and running
events, by coaching sports, directing plays, and teaching about the
environment. Those roles and needs will not change. The character of
our School Boards will not change.
We studied merging in
2011, and decided not to. What’s different this time around?
in the state base education tax rate has made it clear that the way
education is currently organized in Vermont is getting more and more
expensive while serving a shrinking population of students, and it is
worth exploring all avenues to cost savings that also have the
potential to preserve or expand educational opportunities.
three towns also have more in common than they did years ago. This
unification would allow one governance structure while allowing
individuality in our schools.
Would I be able to address the unified
school board directly if I have an issue?
board of the new unified district will be elected by the voters of the
three towns at the same time the merger is voted on. All
meetings would be open to the public, and contact information for the
board would be available on the district web site.
How will I continue to
have an impact on what happens in my local school?
should be easier to influence policies surrounding local education when
there is only one board rather than an overlapping series of boards
with a patchwork of responsibilities. School board members
still be elected by the voters from each town. Building-level
staffing should remain the same (principals, etc.). Community
volunteering will continue to be encouraged at each school.
a unified district change the programs and/or services in my local
unified board will work to offer the best learning opportunities in all
of the schools and will support efforts to replicate best practices and
successful programs. It is likely that there will be some local
differences among school buildings in a unified district. For example,
an individual building may want to pilot a new program or service.
school choice change in a unified district?
Articles of Agreement for forming the new unified district can
“grandfather” Fairfield students who have already begun high school, at
a school other than BFA St. Albans, when the new school district would
begin operation. This means that students who have chosen a different
high school for their freshman year in the 2016-2017 school year, would
be able to continue in that high school until they graduate in 2020.
The new unified union district would pay tuition for these students as
well as any others who were sophomores or juniors at other schools
during the 2016-2017 school year. In the fall of 2017 all freshmen
would attend BFA St. Albans unless they were able to access Vermont’s
limited high school choice law, Act 129.
Under Act 129,
Vermont’s limited high school choice law, students still might have an
opportunity to attend a high school other than BFA St. Albans
after a unified school district was formed. It is not, however,
guaranteed. BFA St. Albans has to offer a certain number of
per year, across all grades, to students who wish to attend a different
public high school. At present, only a few of those slots are used. The
other and perhaps harder piece is that the receiving schools, for
example MMU and Fairfax, can decide how many incoming students they are
willing to accept within some state guidelines. Students who wanted to
attend a high school other than BFA St. Albans would have to
for an opening at another school. If more students want to attend that
school than there are openings, a lottery is conducted. No money
changes hands between schools under Act 129.
Will tax rates go up or
rates in the three towns will be less volatile since expenses are
spread over a broader tax base. The state has approved various
incentives worth millions of dollars to support mergers, which will
cover any up-front merger costs (transitions in payroll systems, new
contract negotiations, etc.) and may even cause a lower tax
In the longer term, the merger’s administrative efficiencies should
help to slow down cost increases.