- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

COLCHESTER, Vt. (AP) - Voters have approved five school district consolidation plans around Vermont.

Merger plans passed by wide margins on Town Meeting Day Tuesday in the Addison Northwest, Franklin Central, Addison Central, Orange Southwest, and Rutland South districts, Vermont Public Radio reported. The districts represent about 7,000 students combined.

The vote puts the districts in line for a tax break under Act 46. The state law aims to address declining enrollment and rising costs by providing tax incentives to districts that consolidate governance structures with a goal of saving money through efficiencies and providing equal education. Districts that have consolidation plans approved before July 1 are eligible for a tax break.

Gov. Peter Shumlin on Wednesday praised the communities and school boards where merger plans passed, saying “these larger districts will be able to provide more stability and support for their small, local schools.”

So far under Act 46, 35 communities representing 40 school districts, have voted to streamline themselves into nine unified districts, Shumlin said. Other districts have formed study committees to consider whether to consolidate. About 70 percent of all Vermont students live in a community that is either moving forward with a merger or talking about it, the governor said.

“I am proud that Vermont is moving forward with reforming our education system so it reflects the reality of our student count and meets the needs of our kids,” Shumlin said.

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