Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

First Advisor

Cynthia Gerstl-Pepin



When it comes to school governance, the concept of "local control" endures as a powerful social construct in some regions of the United States. In New England states, where traditional town meetings and small school districts still exist as important local institutions, the idea of local control is still an important element of policy considerations, despite increasing state and federal regulation of education in recent years.

With its small school districts and myriad governance structures, Vermont represents an extreme case example of the intersection between participatory democracy and the local control of schools. With nearly 285 school boards composed of over 1,400 school board members for a statewide k-12 population of just over 88,000 students, Vermont has the most board members per pupil in the nation. In addition, the state's patchwork of local districts, supervisory unions, unified districts, and other governance entities make up the most complex school governance system in the country. Following the passage of Act 46 in 2015, Vermont school districts began new voluntary merger negotiations and restructuring through the process known as "unification".

This qualitative case study of Vermont school governance examined the question of local control as a social construct across four school districts which, taken together, represent a range of attributes as defined by geography, demographics, and governance structures. Extended structured interviews comprised of image-based prompts and open-ended questions with 19 school board members provided the principal source of data. A review of state and local documents and interviews with 11 superintendents and policymakers allowed for triangulation of the data.

Results suggested these principal findings: 1) multiple meanings of local control coexist, 2) statutory requirements and limited local resources curtail the exercise of local control in practice, and 3) school boards are starting to take a broader view of governance by emphasizing stewardship over micromanagement and redefining local communities beyond town boundaries.



Number of Pages

173 p.