The Bennington Banner reports after years of study committees, votes and uncertainty, the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union finally knows where it's headed.

The Bennington, Pownal, Shaftsbury and Woodford school districts must merge by July 1, 2019. The existing Mount Anthony Union School District, for grades 7 to 12, and the non-operating North Bennington School District will not be merged, according to a final statewide plan by the State Board of Education, released late Friday in connection with Act 46.

The merged districts will form the Southwest Vermont Union Elementary School District, educating students in pre-K through grade 6. The district will be assigned to the SVSU. This is in line with the recommendation made by then-Acting Secretary of Education Heather Bouchey in a report, known as the Section 10 report, released in June.

Act 46, made law in 2015, identified the preferred model of governance for the state's schools as a unified union school district responsible for pre-K through grade 12 education and created three phases of voluntary school district merger and one non-voluntary phase.

The statewide plan was released on the day of the deadline to make it public.

"It's pretty much what we expected," said David Durfee, vice chairman of the Shaftsbury School District board. "It's been strongly hinted at, I would say, for well over a year."

Durfee said he thinks it will take some time for everyone to get used to the change.

But, he said, there are protections to keep schools open, referencing the articles of agreement for the SVSU released in connection with the statewide plan.

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