Board of Ed gives schools merger the go-ahead

Unified district would be the first in state under new law

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By Colin Flanders
The Essex Reporter

The Vermont Board of Education voted unanimously on Tuesday in favor of a proposal to create a unified school district among Essex Junction, Essex Town and Westford.

Residents of the three districts will now be asked to vote on the creation of the unified school district on Nov. 3.

The committee’s focus now turns to getting information regarding the proposal out to the various communities. Heading this campaign is the Regional Education District Communications Task Team.

The communications team meeting on Aug. 13 yielded discussions on the possible use of lawn signs, buttons and fliers, as well as brainstorming about events most suitable for public outreach, such as school sporting events and farmers markets.

The Essex Reporter has been publishing opinion articles on the merger written by Brendan Kinney, who chaired the consolidation group.

The communications team, which plans to meet once a week moving forward, also aims to hold a series of public forums in September and October. The dates and locations of these forums are still being finalized.

The unified district may eventually become known as the Essex Westford Educational Community Unified Union School District — naming committee members sought to remove the confounding “Unified Union” part of the name, but ran up against legal advice to keep it, according to Kinney.

If the merger is approved, the communities would be the first in the state to do so under a new law, called Act 46, which was passed in the spring by the Legislature and includes tax incentives for districts to merge.

On that five-year tax incentives plan, the owner of a $250,000 home who pays full taxes could see savings of $250 to $300 per year at the very start of the incentives rollout, according to one financial model that the group analyzed.

If Westford, however, does not vote to merge — which some community members fear might happen due to fears of losing local control and strong ties to the small town’s local school — the town and village of Essex will still be on track to unify, and would still get incentives, but see slightly lower savings.

A financial analysis that was presented to the merger committee showed there could be $1.3 million in savings if the districts combined.