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Residents of Grand Isle, North Hero, and Isle La Motte have approved a merger to create a new union school district known as the Champlain Islands Unified Union School District. The new district, serving grades PK-6 and offering school choice for grades 7-12, will begin operation on July 1, 2019. 

Results in Grand Isle were 575-301 in favor, 394-170 in North Hero, and 243-60 in Isle La Motte.  South Hero voters declined to join the union by a 737-380 margin. Alburgh did not vote on Tuesday, but has until November 30, 2017 to vote on joining the union district.

The following people will serve on the new Union School District Board:
Andrew Julow (North Hero), Gary Marckres (Grand Isle), Nathan Robinson (Grand Isle), Mike Talbot (Grand Isle) and Jane Zera (Isle La Motte). This Board will begin work on policies, procedures and the FY’20 budget, with an implementation date of July 1, 2019. School choice will begin for grades 7-8 in Fall 2019. The current school boards in each town will continue governance for FY’17 and FY’18.

The Act 46 Study Committee is deeply grateful for the thoughtful engagement of our communities throughout this process, culminating in great voter turnout on Tuesday.
September 20 may have seemed like any other day, but it was a milestone for the Act 46 Study Committee. On that date, our chair, superintendent and representative Committee members presented our Report to the State Board.

Our proposal was unanimously approved by the state board and received high praise from both the state board and the Secretary of Education. The latter said our report  had "raised the bar" for other districts.

What’s happens next?

  •  Spread the Word:  The long-range implications of Act 46 are going to have a tremendous impact on our students, communities and taxpayers. Be sure your friends and neighbors know the facts. The Committee will be sending out a summary document in the upcoming weeks, but if you want to be the smartest kid on the block, check out the official report under the "Documents" tab.
  •  Information Meetings:  Each town's School Board is hosting one or more information meetings designed to answer your questions about the proposed merger.Watch for announcements of these meetings.
  • Vote Nov. 8:  Cast your vote on the proposed merger and your town’s representative(s) to the new Union School Board.
  • Current School Boards:  Continue governance for FY’17 and FY’18.
  •  New Union School Board:   If the merger proposal passes in Grand Isle, Isle La Motte and North Hero, the new Union Board will begin work on policies, procedures and the FY’20 budget, with an implementation date of July 1, 2019. School choice would begin for 7-8th graders in Fall 2019.

At our last Committee meeting, we took some time to articulate specific benefits we hope will result from the proposed unified union school district we are proposing. Nothing is guaranteed, of course, but it was encouraging and exciting to see what possibilities lie ahead:


  • Increased program quality, variety and equity across a unified district (e.g. foreign languages, technology integration) 
  •  Narrowed focus on age-appropriate learning opportunities
  • Simplified sharing of personnel and physical resources
  • Increased opportunities for shared experiences between students in different towns
  • Opportunity for extended transition plan from Elementary to Middle and High Schools
  •  Improved consistency through reduced teacher turnover
  • Flexibility for student placement across district
  •  Increased equity in transportation availability
  •  Improved curriculum consistency across district
  • Creates larger community inclusive of multiple towns


  • Greatly expanded academic learning opportunities
  •  Increased access to advanced academics
  • Expanded access to student support services
  • Greatly expanded personal growth opportunities (e.g. clubs and activities)
  • Earlier access to a wider variety of athletic opportunities
  • Wider exposure to different peer groups
  • Heightened sense of identity and belonging with their secondary school
  • Similar transition time as other elementary students
  • Expanded opportunities for technology integration experiences


  •  Increased professional development opportunities
  •  Improved resource availability through sharing across district
  •  Increased peer interaction, collaboration and planning opportunities
  • Better administrative support
  • More opportunities for full-time career path within district
  • Increased job security
  •  Improved curriculum consistency across district


  • Decreased administrative and bureaucratic redundancies
  • Increased principals’ availability for instructional leadership
  • Flexibility for classroom configurations and student placement across district
  • Flexibility for faculty placement across district
  • Ability to offer competitive full time positions to prospective staff
  • Larger data samples for meaningful student learning assessments
  • Facilitates property and operations management
  • In-school administrative offices allows for improved student/staff observation and interaction


  • Moderates effects of year-to-year population changes
  • Shared educational resources across unified district eliminates unnecessary expenditures
  • Better utilization of owned buildings
  • May reduce need to pay for rented space
  • Probable reduction in personnel expenses
  • Availability of tax incentives depending on Merger Model
Wow... it's June. Seems like just last summer we started talking about a crazy new legislation called Act 46.  Oh wait -- it WAS last summer. ;)

So where are we now? Your Study Committee spent the winter months surveying current and past middle and high school students about their on- and off-island island educational experiences, exploring different merger models (with districts within and outside Grand Isle County) and attempting to determine how to provide the best learning opportunities for our middle and high school students at a cost that makes the most sense.

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that we had some differing opinions, both because we are a Committee of opinionated human beings, but also because each town has a different history, different perspectives and different options for their students.

There comes a time when a Committee needs to move its focus from exploration to the identification of a specific plan to flesh out. For us, this was May 17. Representatives from Isle LaMotte and North Hero have felt strongly for some time that the PK-Grade 6 structure their districts have employed works well. Grand Isle's representatives were hearing that their community wanted more advanced learning opportunities for their middle school students than what was available with current resources. Representatives from Alburgh and South Hero were less certain what grade structure would be the most beneficial to their communities. So on May 17, our Committee took a bold step, and voted unanimously to:

"Create a proposal for a union school district operating grades pre-kindergarten through sixth, and offering school choice for grades 7-12, with the towns of Grand Isle, Isle LaMotte and North Hero recommended as necessary, and the towns of Alburgh and South Hero recommended as advisable."

A couple quick definitions will be helpful here. In the world of Act 46, "necessary" means that those towns are essential to the proposal. When the time comes to vote on the merger structure, it would need to pass in each of these "necessary" towns in order to become reality. "Advisable" means that these towns would make the proposal (and merger) stronger, but affirmative votes in these two towns are not needed for the the merger of the other three towns to occur. In fact, as "advisable" towns, Alburgh and South Hero representatives can decide whether or not to present the option to voters at all, or to present another alternative.

So now the Committee is engaged in the process of writing the report that will be submitted to the Agency of Education and State Board. This report will illustrate how the proposed merger will meet each of the specific goals of Act 46, as well as other information, like how each town will be represented on the new School Board.  Our goal is to have this report prepared and approved by the AoE and State Board in time for town votes on November 8, 2016. In the meantime, Alburgh and South Hero reps will be busy discussing this structure and other possibilities with their communities.

Stay tuned for more!
I've read that managing change is like nailing Jello to the wall. That's a good picture of what the Act 46 Study Committee has been trying to do these last few months. Each meeting it seemed we had new information from the state, or a new development to consider in one town or another. But we HAVE made progress!

Please join us for an update at the Grand Isle School on Saturday, March 19 from 10 - 11:30 a.m. We'll share where we are, and are learn how you feel about the proposals we're considering.

Just when you think you can't take another meeting, we make some progress! No offense to any of the team, since we're certainly not taking on a small challenge, but it's beginning to feel like we're getting SOMEWHERE!

Since a key requirement of our new governance structure is that all schools must operate the same grades (e.g. PK-6 or PK-8), our recent discussions have focused on which model provides the best opportunities for our middle school students. We'd love hear from current middle school and high school students, as well as recent graduates. Please take 2 minutes (really!) to answer the questions on our Student Survey.

Thank you!
Since my last post, the Study Committee has met in Isle La Motte and Alburgh for some meetings/work sessions. The drive is a good reminder of the unique geography of our Supervisory Union. Before we go any further in our work, we are eager to hear from the residents of our five towns. It won't do us any good to come up with a proposal, if it doesn't meet the needs of the people who will be voting for it.

So we have two different opportunities for you to share your thoughts, opinions and experiences with us. First, we've put together a Act 46 Fact Sheet that includes a short survey. It will be distributed via an insert in The Islander and will be available at all of our schools and town offices. You can also complete it here on the www.islandschools.org website.

Second, we are holding a Public Forum on Saturday, Nov. 14 at 10 a.m. at the Grand Isle School. There will be a SHORT introduction to Act 46, but our goal is to hear from our communities in order to inform our work. Please come.
If that thought has crossed your mind, you're not alone. Yes, several island schools worked together this past winter on an endeavor called a "Joint Services Study." The result of that work can be found on the GISU website under "Links and Files." It was time well spent. It got us talking and thinking about ways that our schools could improve educational quality and control education costs by working together. (And if you've lived here for more than a week, you'll understand that getting our proud, independent island towns talking about collaboration is no small feat!) This study was missing two key components:  1) we were talking about voluntary collaboration, with no mandates, deadlines, incentives or penalties to move us from concept to reality, and 2) all of the county's towns didn't participate, limiting our potential options for exploration.

This is different.
  1. DEADLINE:  Our Act 46 Study Committee was formed due to a real deadline: November 30, 2017. If we don't have a unification plan (or approved alternative) by that date, we'll be subject to the Agency of Education’s School District Realignment Plan, which will "merge" schools according to what THEY think is best.
  2. INCENTIVES:  Unification prior to the deadline provides multiple incentives for participating towns, including: grant money for study and implementation costs; reduced homestead tax rate for at least four years (8 cents first year, 6 cents second year, 4 cents third year, 2 cents fourth year); schools receiving “Small Schools Grants” could use funds for merger support; and schools receiving cost benefits from “phantom students” in their ADM enrollment calculations could keep some of these benefits. 
  3. PENALTIES:  Failure to take unification action results in various potential penalties, including tax penalties for cost-per-pupil increases, loss of Small Schools Grants (currently received by South Hero, North Hero and Isle LaMotte); and loss of ADM Hold Harmless provisions, also known as the phantom students credit (currently received by South Hero and Isle LaMotte). 
  4. PARTICIPATION:  All FIVE towns are part of the Act 46 Study Committee. Together, we're going to explore a variety of collaboration options... both with each other, and with districts outside our county. We all have the same goal: improving educational opportunities for island students, and decreasing the tax burden on our residents. 
So...buckle your seat belts -- it's going to be an "E" ticket ride! (Remember those?)

Let's agree that meetings can be a drag. Reading meeting minutes? Admirable, but tough to pull off sometimes. Staying in the loop? Critical, especially when it comes to the future of Grand Isle County Schools.

What's the solution? Come to meetings when your schedule allows, read the minutes when you can, refer to our islandschools.org website for background materials, but subscribe to the SCOOP blog to get the skinny on what's going on with the Committee. We'll do our best to boil it all down for easy consumption.

I'll take mine in a sugar cone, please.