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The Commons
Voices / Letters from readers

Isn't it time to admit that the Act 46 game has changed?

Originally published in The Commons issue #416 (Wednesday, July 12, 2017).

I believe it is time to thank the members of the WSESU Act 46 Study Committee for the work they have done on the merger models outlined at the onset of Act 46. I also believe it is time to recognize that the Act 46 challenge in WSESU has changed significantly from when this group began its work back in 2015.

Deadlines have come and gone, Vernon has received special permission from the state Legislature to exit the current union without the permission of other towns, and — most significantly — the Legislature has made changes to Act 46 regarding alternative ways to meet the goals of the original legislation.

Nearly 100 Vermont towns still struggle to find the best way forward regarding how they govern their schools to improve equity of opportunity for all students, to control costs, and to improve transparency of governance — all the basic goals of Act 46.

There are deep divides in the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union regarding school choice and the maintaining of local school boards. The proposed merger may be down to only three towns if Dummerston settles on an alternative path.

There is also a growing recognition that equity, efficiency, and transparency could be better achieved by making changes within our existing “supervisory union with member districts” — an alternative governance structure (AGS) allowed under Act 46.

Using our current structure does not mean doing nothing. It means moving toward the goals of Act 46 in a way that recognizes our communities for their strengths and traditions.

Equity can easily go the way of equalized mediocrity. Efficiency can undermine quality. A single nine-member school board overseeing pre-K-to-12 education in four towns will not guarantee transparency. It could just as well become a path to unresponsiveness.

The WSESU already has a rich history of collaboration, one that can be enlarged to include access to after-school programming, summer tutoring, subsidized meals, and other areas of common need throughout the union.

There is no guarantee that a single board dominated by Brattleboro will ensure equity, efficiency, and transparency. These goals can only be met by political will and collaboration. New structures do not guarantee specific results. Leadership, creativity, and respect will solve these challenges.

The “accelerated merger” was set aside last summer by the study committee. The five town “preferred merger” has been abandoned due to the imminent departure of Vernon from the current union. Isn’t it now the time to admit that the game has changed?

Once the vote for a multi-town merger is defeated at the polls, we can get to work solving specific program goals within our current structure, thus transforming WSESU into a truly alternative model under Act 46.

The Legislature has given us the tools and the timeline to do so. Let’s work with our school boards to get this done!

Andy Davis

West Brattleboro

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