Thursday May 19, 2016
Early in May, Superintendent David Young, along with school board chair Patrick Leduc and board member Julie Beatty, met with the Grand Isle Supervisory Union to hear their proposal for a merger with the South Burlington School District under Act 46. The conversations are very preliminary and the district is in the process of doing their due diligence in exploring the benefits and drawbacks of such a proposal.
Act 46 was instituted by the Vermont Legislature in 2015 and provides financial incentives for districts to consolidate. According to the legislation, the Act “puts pressure on systems to control growth in per pupil spending without forcing automatic cuts of the kind that can damage schools and hurt students.”
One of the primary incentives for districts pursuing voluntary mergers include a decrease in the equalized homestead property tax rate by $0.08 in the first year, $0.06 in the second year, $0.04 in the third year, and $0.02 in the fourth year.
In addition, if one or more of the merging districts received a small school grant in FY 2016, then the new district would receive an annual grant equal to the small school grant amount.
South Burlington already benefits from receiving a number of tuition paying students from the islands, who take district provided transportation to the middle and high school. This provides a significant boost to the annual school district budget. According to District Business Manager John Stewart, for FY 2017 the budget was built with the expectation of having 155 students in South Burlington from districts that do not have high schools. This worked out to 82 students from Grand Isle County and 73 from the Georgia school district in the Franklin West Supervisory Union. Overall enrollment has increased steadily from both districts (Grand Isle and Georgia) as follows: FY 2011: 97, FY 2012: 91, FY 2013: 97, FY 2014: 98, FY 2015: 130, FY 2016 :151, FY 2017: 155.
“At this point, there are more students looking at South Burlington, so these enrollment numbers should increase by the time school begins in August,” Stewart said. Tuition for next year is $15,131 per student, which is down by $61 from the $15,192 being charged this year. This enrollment boost provides a significant increase to the annual school district budget.
The towns that make up the Grand Isle Supervisory Union include Grand Isle, Isle La Motte, Alburgh, South Hero, and North Hero. According to Patrick Leduc, of the five towns, three would be interested in consolidating. Some would want K-12 services while others may only want to send students to the high school while keeping their elementary schools.
Studies are underway to explore the complexities of a merger, such as space constraints and school board configurations. In order for the consolidation to take place, the proposal would need to be approved by the voters of all towns affected; that vote would need to take place by June 30, 2017 in order for the consolidated district to be operational by July 1, 2019.
This proposal adds a layer of complexity to the master planning and visioning conversations already underway in the district. Young will provide more information regarding current enrollments and school capacity at the next school board meeting May 18.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent