Vermont board of ed approves Halifax and Readsboro Act 46 ‘divorce’

Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 5:38 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 16, 2020 at 6:39 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Vermont State Board of Education voted Wednesday to dissolve the Southern Valley Unified Union School District, a district that was formed under Act 46, but wasn’t working for the towns involved.

Halifax and Readsboro’s K-8 schools will no longer be merged as of July 1, 2021. The state education board voted 7-2 in favor of the so-called Act 46 divorce.

The act imposing forced mergers on Vermont districts was approved by lawmakers in 2015 to save money and improve educational opportunities by creating larger and more efficient school entities. Readsboro and Halifax originally merged voluntarily to avoid being forced to join even larger districts. But, after the merger, the schools found they were not able to merge classes and there were large economic differences in the two communities. Readsboro students typically go to a high school in Massachusetts, whereas Halifax students usually choose Brattleboro Union High School.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Homer Sumner, the chair of the Southern Vermont Unified Union School District Board told board members that having Readsboro’s students attend Halifax last year was a nightmare. “Last year, when we had their eighth-graders come to Halifax, the students themselves were happy, some of the parents were happy, but for the most part, it was quite expensive. It would cost us $90,000 to have a bus that transported them,” said Sumner.

In December of 2019, Halifax voted unanimously to exit the district. And in January of this year, Readsboro also voted to leave the district. Sumner tells WCAX he’s happy with the board’s vote. He also says the schools will be able to stay open and he is not worried about the state forcing them into a new merger. The schools have been part of the Windham Southwest Supervisory Union this entire time and will continue to be a part of it.

The state has so far merged 45 districts in 39 towns to form 11 new union school districts. But board chair John Carroll cautioned that Wednesday’s vote could begin a trend. “This could be the first of many proposed divorces,” he said.

A concern that may be brought back to the Legislature to discuss further.

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