Town Meeting - Act 46 Questions and Answers
1. Windham voted down the opportunity to join the merged district, thus the need for a MUUD. Will Windham be subject to the State Plan in 2018 where the possibility of being merged into the MUUD, thus creating a RED, to satisfy the requirement to be in the fewest number of districts practicable?
Yes. That is a possibility. Act 46, Sec. 10 gives the State Board the authority to merge districts to the extent necessary to “provide educational opportunities through sustainable governance structures designed to meet the goals set forth in Sec. 2 of this act pursuant to one of the models described in Sec. 5.” A couple of things to note:
· The MUUSD itself would be exempt from merger by the State Board, so the State Board could require the Windham Elementary School District to merge with the MUUSD only if the voters of the MUUSD agreed to accept Windham as a member for PK-6.
· Because the Windham Elementary School District did not become part of the MUUSD for PK-12, it is subject to the requirements of Act 46, Sec. 9 for (1) self-evaluation, (2) regional conversations, and (3) a proposal for how it will meet or exceed the Act 46 Goals by maintaining its current structure. The study committee’s report could satisfy the first two requirements, although the WESD could provide additional data as well or instead. It seems likely that the school board of the WESD would want to submit a different report than the one supporting unification submitted by the study committee as they will be advocating the opposite.
2. Now that the West River Education District has been formed, what incentives are they going to receive? I ask this in light of the side-by-side not forming with Wardsboro, a necessary town, voting the merger down. Do they still get the up to $150,000 merger grant, the 8 cent, 6 cent, 4 cent, 2 cent reduction, do their small school grants convert to merger support grants, and do they get the hold harmless protection of 3.5%?
The River Valleys proposal was contingent on approval of both of the necessary districts. As drafted, it was also contingent on formation of the West River USD/MUUSD. That second condition was needed for the River Valleys to qualify for tax rate reductions and other transitional assistance as one side of the “Side-by-Side” program created in Act 156 (2012).
The West River proposal was not reciprocally contingent upon approval of the River Valleys proposal because the West River Ed is independently eligible for the tax rate reductions and other transitional assistance – either under the “RED” program created in Act 153 (2010) or as a MUUSD created per Act 156 (2012). Both entities have the same result:
· Option of:
a. Tax rate reductions of .08, .06, .04, and .02
o Income-payers percentage adjusted accordingly
o Member town’s rate cannot increase or decrease by >5% until at unified rate
b. $400 multiplied by new districts’ ADM in first year of operation
· Merger Support Grant:
o Existing Small School Grants transformed into Merger Support Grant
o paid annually unless and until small school closed (but paid for life of bond if closed due to construction / renovation for building consolidation)
· Consulting Services Grant (already received some or all) : reimbursement of up to $20,000 in fees
· Transition Facilitation Grant: in first year of operation equal to lesser of:
o $150,000 or
o 5% of base education amount multiplied by new district’s ADM
Reduced by any amount received as a Consulting Services Grant
· Continued eligibility for 3.5% hold-harmless when protection is fully repealed FY21
· Not subject to merger by State Board of Education in final Statewide Plan
Note: In a MUUSD, the no-voting elementary district is not entitled to any of the above – but, because it is a member of the MUUSD for the high school grades operated by the MUUSD and because the MUUSD has a single tax rate, the taxpayers in that district received the benefit of the tax rate reductions for the high school portion of their taxes.
Note also: Although they are referred to often as incentives, the tax rate reductions are in large part a recognition that when multiple districts first create a unified budget, the unified tax rate will likely be an increase for taxpayers in some towns and a decrease for taxpayers in others. The tax rate reductions and 5% provisions let them reach that unified rate gradually (a soft landing). In addition, both the tax rate and other transitional assistance (e.g., $150,000 Transition Facilitation Grant) recognize that there may be some initial up-front costs associated with merger (switching to identical software, etc.)
3. What legal authority does the new board have since the school district does not go into existence until July 1, 2019? What can they do, what should they do? Can they negotiate future contracts, develop policies, budgets, etc?
The highlighted phrase is inaccurate and so that needs to be cleared up first.
The new unified district does not become fully operational until July 1, 2019 but if it will become a full, legal entity – a union school district – approximately 10-20 days after the votes are final on April 6 pursuant to 16 VSA § 706g, part of the union school district formation statutes that have been in law since the late 1960s.
Approximately 45-60 days afterwards, there will be a Warned organizational meeting of the new unified district. Among other things, the members of the school board elected on TMD will be sworn in and assume their duties per 16 VSA § 706j(b).
Both the statutes and the West River Articles of Agreement (see, e.g., Articles 4 and 11) direct the new board to perform the necessary work to transition to full operations on July 1, 2019. For example, the new board will negotiate and enter into contracts with all staff who will be employed on that day, it will prepare and present the proposed FY20 budget, it will prepare and adopt policies, etc.
So during the transitional period (~May 2017 through June 30, 2019) there will be (1) the current town and high school boards, which are responsible for keeping everything running until July 1, 2019, and concurrently there will be (2) the unified board, which is responsible for getting the new district ready to hit the ground running on July 1, 2019. The statutes and articles permit the current boards to remain in existence for a short period of time after July 1, 2019 in case there is anything that only those boards can finish up.
4. How do we go about dissolving the Newfane-Brookline joint contract? What is the timeline for this to occur?
Just to be clear, there is no entity that needs to be “dissolved.” Rather, two districts have entered into a contract to do something together. I expect that the contract will expire on July 1, 2019 when the two districts are no longer contractually able or statutorily authorized to provide education for the students in those towns. The contract itself should specify how it ends and how to wrap things up. You need to talk with your attorney about this.
5. What is the Path for a school district like Dover to receive the incentives? They have a like-district neighbor in Wardsboro ( both K-6 with secondary choice) that voted no to the merger. Yet, Dover has done all they can to meet the goals of ACT 46 and if they don’t merge prior to the deadline, they will not be guaranteed the incentives and YET they most likely will be paired with Wardsboro under the statewide plan. So they have done everything in their control and will still miss out on the incentives….
As Acts 153 (2010), 156 (2012), and 46 (2015) are currently written, the only path for Dover to receive tax rate reductions and other transitional assistance is to merge voluntarily with another district. That could occur if Wardsboro has a reconsideration vote and approves the proposal. In addition, the Senate Education Committee has introduced a bill that would extend the eligibility deadline for a favorable vote for a district with a failed vote that regroups and presents a new plan that receives voter approval by November 30, 2017. It is always impossible to know, up until the very last moment, whether any proposal will pass the Legislature, but this might also provide a route.
6. What is the path for a place like Dover to become a charter, magnet, or independent school? (The Board asked me to ask you). Marlboro most likely would be interested in this question as well.
Charter: There is no authority Vermont for the creation of Charter schools. When the Legislature has looked at this possibility, I believe that it determined that the benefits of Charter Schools are already present in the current structure of Vermont schools.
Magnet School: If you mean a public magnet school, then the board would decide the lens through which it will offer its curriculum (e.g., the environment, the arts), develop the program, and publicize it to encourage people to move to the town or encourage tuitioning students to enroll. These exist already in Burlington and are under consideration / development in other recently merged districts / merger proposals as a way to make the most of public elementary school choice among all of the elementary schools operated throughout the unified districts.
If you mean a private magnet school, then see “independent school” below.
Independent School: A district cannot “become” an independent school. A district exists solely to provide for the education of its students either by (1) operating a school for certain grades or (2) paying tuition for those grades. Only the voters can decide whether the district will operate or tuition. If the voters voted to close an elementary school then the district could lease or sell the building to another entity, including to an approved independent school. But note that even if an independent school opened for the very same grades in the very same building that formerly housed the public elementary school, once the voters have decided to pay tuition rather than operate a school, the parents can take those tuition dollars anywhere they choose – nothing requires them to use their tuition dollars at the independent school in their town of residence.
7. The Alt Structure Rules Proposal is still considered a Draft. When is the final draft date expected? We aim to work from what exists and don't want things being switched midstream.
The State Board may approve the revised draft at its regular March or April meeting. Once the State Board approves them, they will be submitted to the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules for review and hearing before they are finalized.
The rules have two essential components that are not likely to change:
(1) The school board must follows the requirements in Act 46, Sec. 9 to self-evaluate; have regional conversations; and present a proposal (as s single district or jointly with others) to the Secretary and State Board by November 30, 2017 that demonstrates how the district’s proposal not to change its governance structure allows it to meet or exceed the five educational and fiscal goals of Act 46 and what specific plans it has to improve itself in relation to the goals.
(2) The school board must support the proposal with exactly the same sort of data that the study committee would have reviewed and analyzed when assessing whether to present the proposal to form a unified district to the voters. The types of elements that would be reviewed and analyzed are the listed in both the original and potential revised versions of the proposed rules. The data needed for these analyses are available in a series of tables, spreadsheets, etc through links on the Agency’s School Governance / Guidance webpage under the heading linked here: "Understanding Your District."
8. Marlboro would likely aim to complete an Alternative Structure Proposal much sooner than the November 2017 deadline, so that we can come back to the voters if necessary for a re-vote (should Wardsboro re-vote and join Dover based on your quote/comments and my own assumptions). Will the BOE provide feedback to proposals submitted prior to the deadline? Our hope is that they would.
The State Board likely will not be able to review the proposals until after the Secretary has reviewed them, had conversations with the districts submitting them, and created her proposed plan in May 2018. Given the realities of workloads, the Agency is not likely to be able to review submissions received before the November 30 deadline until the Autumn at the earliest because we must prioritize requests associated with earlier deadlines.
9. Please let us know what grants are available to assist with legal review and other matters during the proposal - if at all (we know the VSBA has one that we're looking into - independent of what might be available from the State).
The Legislature authorized three types of grants that are available to two or more districts working together, so all can be used in connection with the preparation of a proposal under Sec. 9 – because that section requires self-evaluation and regional conversations. Information about all of them can be found on the Agency’s School Governance / Guidance webpage under the heading linked here: Exploratory and Study Committee Grants .
Detailed information about each can be found under the link “Study Grants – Instructions” found under that heading. In a nutshell:
(1) Up to $5,000 reimbursement for services connected to two or more districts exploring working together in any way (not just through merger)
(2) Up to $10,000 reimbursement for services connected to two or more districts exploring in more detail ways in which they can work together that do not involve merger
(3) Up to $20,000 reimbursement to a study committee exploring creation of a unified district, drafting articles of agreement etc. – I mention this because the analytical work done by the study committee should be the same sort of analysis that is done by a district making a proposal under Act 46, Sec. 9 and so can be used for that second purpose.
10. Would Marlboro's revote date get pushed if a revote happens for Wardsboro that is successful? Or would it still hold as March 2018? Or would it be the date the district is voted on - say 30 days from now in 2018.
I’m a bit confused by what this is asking, but can describe all of the opportunities of which I’m aware for voters in Marlboro to vote again on whether the district should be in a unified union school district with Dover and Wardsboro:
(1) 17 VSA. § 2661: By filing a petition for reconsideration within 30 days after the March 7, 2017 vote.
(2) Article 18: If the voters of W approve the proposal in a reconsideration vote under 17 VSA § 2661, then Article 18 of the new unified district’s articles of agreement provides: if the voters of Marlboro vote by March 31, 2018 in favor of joining the unified district under 16 VSA § 721, then it is presumed that the unified district agrees that Marlboro may join it and there doesn’t need to be a vote of confirmation by the voters of the unified district.
(3) 16 VSA § 721: Marlboro could vote to join the unified district at any time after March 31, 2018 under a process that, in a nutshell has two steps:
· Marlboro voters vote whether to join the unified district
· If the result is in the affirmative, then the voters of the new unified district vote whether to accept Marlboro into the district (this is the step that can be avoided under (2) above).
It is important to note something about both (2) and (3) above: If W approves the proposal on reconsideration, then the new unified district will be created approximately 20 days after that vote (even though it is not fully operational until July 1, 2019 – see responses above). Therefore, if M joins under (2) or (3) it is not helping tocreate a district, but rather it is joining an existing district. The result is that Marlboro is not technically entitled to any of the tax rate reductions and other transition assistance – but, as a practical matter:
· The taxpayers in Marlboro would receive the benefit of any tax rate reductions that the taxpayers in D and W received because M would be a member of a unified district that has a single tax rate.
· Similarly, it would likely benefit from the $150,000 Transition Facilitation Grant if it joined in the early years of the merger.
· However - Marlboro’s Small School Grant would not be transformed into a perpetual Merger Support Grant, but rather the new unified district would need to apply for it each year under the new criteria that will go into effect in 2019.
11. One question would be if some of us could join with, let's say, Dummerston, which is interested in pursuing an Alternative Governance Structure? I have reviewed that section of law and I believe towns don't have to be contiguous.
Towns do not have to be contiguous but Dummerston is a member of an existing union high school district and cannot merge with any district other than other member of that union district unless it withdraws from the union district (as Vernon has been trying to do).
12. Another question would be if there are enough students in the WCSU district formed to qualify? I count somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 - 600 students.
I don’t understand what this is asking.
But this may be the response:
· There is no program under which a district or group of districts will receive tax rate reductions etc. based on the total ADM of the SU of which they are members.
· Similarly, a district is not exempt from merger by the State Board because the district is part of an SU with a certain total ADM.
13. After RE-organizing last night, a question about whether the new MUUSD gets representation on the WCSU Board? Does this happen now, or not untilJuly 1, 2019 when they officially take over?
This is the first time that this question has arisen, because it is the first time that a MUUSD has been formed where there are districts other than the no-voting elementary school district in the SU. I’m not certain and will need to discuss this with others, including your attorney.
14. How is it that Windham, which voted to be in the L&G Union, which is being dissolved, is automatically being included in this new Union? How is it that we had to vote to be in the old Union, but not in this new one? It's like a divorce which includes the old partner in the new marriage. What statute allows this?
The Legislature created Modified Unified Union School Districts in Act 156 of 2012, Sec. 17 as amended by Act 56 of 2013, Sec. 3. (Read the text of the law, as amended here: MUUSD link ).
The non-approving district remains a member of the union district for the grades of which it was a member in the union high school district – but the MUUSD structure permits the other districts to become members of a PK-12 district.