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Consolidating school districts bill still on the table - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Consolidating school districts bill still on the table

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MONTPELIER, Vt. - Vermont spends hundreds of millions of dollars educating its young people, but some believe that cost is out of control and leading to high property tax bills.

It appeared that the consolidating school districts bill was dead this week, but after the governor spoke up, the bill is alive.

"We know it's complicated, we know its tough work but I would like us to get a start," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont.

"We are working to build support. I want to be completely candid that it's a work in progress," said Rep. Shap Smith, D-Vt. House Speaker.

Behind the scenes, lawmakers were miffed with the governor because they had to deal with such a controversial issue in an election year. It's a hot button issue because the bill would eliminate 270 plus school districts and create 45 to 55 supervisory unions.

"There are many rural communities that are very worried about potential governance change and whether it may impact that in a negative way," said Smith.

The cost of education picked up steam when more school districts rejected spending plans in March. Before those votes, the governor was critical of school board members for not proposing leaner budgets. That prompted pushback from local officials. The governor now hopes this plan will lead to savings without wiping out local control.

"There is a difference between right sizing administrating, right sizing of bureaucracy and closing schools. I don't think Montpelier should ever be deciding what schools should be open and what schools should close; that would be a disaster. However, what Montpelier must do and can do is come up with a better structure for administrating schools," said Shumlin.

The new districts would become much bigger; some districts could oversee as many as 4,000 students. It's a huge change from the current landscape.

"You are saying to school boards not next year but over a period of time you may be phased out into a larger regional entity and there are concerns about that," said Smith.

The controversial bill could be on the House floor by next week and it could pit big districts against small districts and not be a situation where Democrats are against Republicans.
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