Consolidating rural school districts with sparse enrollment is a complicated—and contentious—process that can unfold over several years.
Case in point: Vermont, where the issue has been roiling the local and legislative landscape for a year now.
Amid rising education costs for a rapidly dwindling student population, that state's legislature last year passed a law aiming to reward residents of districts willing to consolidate with a series of tax breaks—and to significantly increase the local homestead-tax rate on those districts that stay independent and spend beyond a series of caps set by the state.
The state—which spends an average of $18,000 per student, the highest rate in the nation—has more than 280 districts, serving just 80,000 students. At least 79 of those districts have fewer than 100 students, and one district has just 19.
By 2018, the state legislature hopes the consolidation law will cut the number of districts in half, allowing schoo...