AROUND THE NEK - Big decisions will be made for the towns of Burke, Concord, Lunenburg, Lyndon, Newark, Sutton, Sheffield, and Wheelock on Town Meeting this year. That's because they will all be deciding whether or not their schools will be joining the Kingdom East School District, as a part of Vermont's proposed Act 46. The legislation is asking school districts to unify into one due to low enrollment and to better meet state goals. However, this is a slippery slope for a lot of community members in smaller towns, and the state has made the merge almost inevitable.
"If the towns vote no, here's the stick in the carrot that the state set out for us. You have a year to vote again, and possibly join Kingdom East. If you continue to say no, and say 'we're just going to see what happens', then the Secretary of Education has the power to say your going to join this district," said Tony DeMasi, a Burke District Chair member.
According to the Kingdom East Governance Committee's website, the name "Kingdom East" was formed by a group of school board and community members who have been studying district consolidation since the fall of 2015. Kingdom East would include four out of five districts from the current Caledonia North Supervisory Union, and two districts from the current Essex-Caledonia Supervisory Union. The new school district would provide pre-k through 8th grade, and high school choice for grades 9 through 12. Kingdom East would also be expected to comply with existing employee contracts, and would negotiate for new contracts as well.
Since June of 2015, over 60 school districts have merged across the state into what has become 14 school districts. The feedback to legislators has been positive.
"They are almost unanimous in saying they have found out that this actually works for them. It works in two ways; number one it does save money, number two, it does provide resources that they did not have access to previously," said Senator Joe Benning, state representative for Caledonia District 1.
In order to proceed with the process, a minimum of 4 school districts must vote "yes" during Town Meeting. If that happens, those districts that voted 'yes' will be combined into the Kingdom East School District, and will begin full operation by July, 2018.