Act 46 Windsor/West Windsor Merger
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are we voting on this merger of Windsor and West Windsor school districts?
Almost two years ago, all four of the school boards in our supervisory union (Windsor, West Windsor, Hartland, Weathersfield) formed what is called a 706b merger committee in order to comply with Act 46, passed by the VT legislature in 2015. The 706b merger committee was made up of members in all four towns equally. The committee met for over 20 months and looked at a variety of merger options.
After careful and significant deliberation, it was decided unanimously that Windsor and West Windsor should present a unified school district merger proposal to the State Board of Education. On January 17th, the State Board of Education approved the merger plan, which you can find here in the Final Report. This report has a lot of information on the “why”. Also, you can find the presentation for the February 2018 forums here. Both school boards decided that the best time to vote on this proposal would be Town Meeting Day 2018, which is March 6th.
Will my town lose school high school choice?
If you live in West Windsor, then eventually your town loses school choice. The newly formed district will secure choice for those students who are already enrolled in a junior or senior high school program. But after July 1, 2019, all students in the new district who are in the elementary grades will go to the unified high school, Windsor High School.
Are there increased educational opportunities at Windsor Jr/Sr High because of the Merger?
Windsor Middle/High School already offers excellent programming for their students. In fact, compared to other area high schools, students do well on common statewide assessments. That said, there is a plan to reinvest some of the tuition savings from West Windsor back into local programming. Remember, each year of the new merger fewer and fewer students will be in outside high school placements. This will save money. This reinvestment should provide expanded curriculum offerings, increased opportunities in the performing arts, and a more personalized approach to academic programming. The new board, in consultation with the administration, will do a needs assessment and begin active planning for expanding opportunities as soon as the new district is formed.
Can voters in any of the towns close our school?
The new school district does not allow one town to close a school in the other town. The new school board, after the first four years of formation, can vote to close a school. However, that question would have to be voted on by Australian Ballot by the voters of both towns. These votes would be co-mingled.
I heard there are significant property tax changes if we merge. What are they?
It is always hard to predict a future tax rate because the state changes the formula. In fact, this year the state is looking at a major overhaul of the school tax law. Our projections on a $100,000 house, without any property tax income-sensitivity adjustment, would amount to an increase of $65 in Windsor and a decrease of $800 in West Windsor. This would be a one-year adjustment.
Why is there such a difference in the projected tax rates for both towns?
Basically, we are taking a high per-pupil spending district (West Windsor) and merging it with a low per-pupil spending district (Windsor). Therefore, the former rate has to come down and the latter rate has to go up (approx. 4.5 cents vs. 8 cents). From a Windsor perspective, this may seem unfair. Remember, West Windsor (and the future merged district) will no longer be paying high school tuition, which saves a lot of money for both districts in the future. On the flip side, Windsor will lose some high school tuition revenue because the new merged school district cannot charge high school tuition to West Windsor students just like we don’t charge tuition to Windsor students who go from 6th to 7th grade. Once this tuition dilemma stabilizes (expenditure vs. revenue), the tax rate situation should also stabilize, all other things being equal. Moreover, this merger, since it did not fit one of the State’s preferred structures, does not come with State tax incentives. These incentives would have mitigated the tax increase for Windsor.
What happens to the debt and reserve funds in both districts if we merge?
All debt and assets transfers to the new district once if we merge with one exception. In West Windsor, the state allowed that district to have the town collect the debt for most recent renovations to the school through the municipal West Windsor property taxes. That arrangement will continue until that debt is paid in full. All other assets and debt will be owned jointly by each of the towns. It is important to note that the land the school sits on in West Windsor is town land, but the school building belongs to the school district and will be transferred to the new school district.
When does the merger become effective?
The vote will take place on March 6th of this year. We will also be electing a transitional school board. If the merger is approved, then the transition board has one year to work out all the details on the newly merged district. They will also establish a budget for the next school year. The merger will take place the following July 1, 2019.
If we merge, will our elementary students have to go to the other school?
There are no plans to transfer elementary students to the other schools. The new board can better coordinate staffing patterns in the new district since it will be one single municipal entity. So, theoretically, if there was a small number of second graders at one school, then the board could ask for parents to volunteer to send their second graders to the other school.
How many on the new board and how are they elected?
The new board is made up of 6 members. Three of those members are from West Windsor and three are from Windsor. Candidates for those seats run at-large. This means that Windsor voters also vote for candidates in West Windsor and vice-versa. There is a 1-year, 2-year, and 3-year term in each of the towns.
Will the new district have a new name?
There are no plans to change the name of the new district, but a future board could do that. Right now we are referring to the new district as the Windsor/West Windsor School district. There are also no plans to change the name of the high school. Boards, with public input, can always change the names of any schools under their jurisdiction. This has nothing to do with Act 46.
What does the word “grandfathering” mean in the Articles of Agreement?
The committee that developed the Articles thought that it would be callous to take a student who was already enrolled in a different junior or senior high school and move them to the new unified Jr./Sr. High School. In other words, if an 8th grader was in the Woodstock Union Middle School when the merger passed, they should be able to stay with their peers in Woodstock until they graduate. This is called grandfathering. After all those students graduate, then all students attend the newly unified junior and senior high school in Windsor.
When and where are we voting?
Polls open at 9:00 AM and close at 7:00 PM in both towns on Tuesday, March 6.
If voting in Windsor: Rec Center Gym. If voting in West Windsor: Story Memorial Hall.