(Host) The Vermont House has given early approval to a bill that encourages local school districts to consider sharing some of their programs with nearby communities.
The legislation provides $650,000 to pay for a wide range of incentive grants for towns that want to start the process.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:
(Kinzel) One of the reasons that Vermont has a high per student spending rate is because the state has a number of smaller schools and legislation mandating that these schools merge with neighboring schools has never been very popular at the Statehouse.
So this bill takes a different approach. It provides planning grants for communities that want to discuss how they might share educational resources.
For instance, $5,000 grants are available for towns that want to offer joint classes to their students and communities that want to work towards a full blown consolidation model could receive as much as $150,000.
Woodbury Rep. Peter Peltz says it’s critical for local school boards to consider how they can maximize educational opportunities with their neighbors.
(Peltz) "These conversations that are going on are healthy. We’ve got to sustain them. If anything it’s a modest amount of money that we’re putting in to just get people to talk outside their districts to be able to really pursue the ideas and what they might do. Whether it’s a full fledged governance consolidation or just shared services and programs — all for the better. That’s where we’re heading."
(Kinzel) And Peltz thinks there are a number of communities that are interested in learning more about ways they can work with nearby towns.
(Peltz) "We’re definitely seeing interest. And the other thing is even with defeated votes we’ve seen positive results just in the exchange that happened in that process so there were more shared services and they’re realizing what they could do together without going through the full process of becoming a unified district."
(Kinzel) Peltz says 30 years ago, the elementary school in Woodbury had roughly 100 students. Now it has 40 and the community is looking at a variety of options.
(Peltz) "We’re struggling in my town just to pay the heat, paint the buildings and a huge old 100 year old building with 40 kids in it, it is hard. It’s putting a lot of strain on the town and that’s one of the primary reasons I’ve promoted this– is to give them more options in terms of what they might do beyond just to try to do it on their own."
(Kinzel) The bill is scheduled to come up for final approval in the House on Wednesday afternoon. If it passes, it will then go to the Senate for its consideration.
For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.