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The Commons
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Voices / Viewpoint

We don't need to merge

Nothing in the proposed Act 46 merger will benefit Brattleboro children or taxpayers

Judy Davidson is a psychologist and community volunteer.

Originally published in The Commons issue #419 (Wednesday, August 2, 2017). This story appeared on page D2.

The consequence of the proposed school-district merger for Brattleboro, Guilford, Dummerston, and Putney?

All towns will lose their respective local elementary school boards, and all decisions on policy, curriculum, and finances for all children — from pre-kindergarten through the high school and the Windham Regional Career Center — will be made by a single board of nine individuals elected from the different towns.

People supporting the merger say, “Well, the Brattleboro Union High School board functions well.” But the BUHS board is involved only in decisions affecting middle school and high school students’ curriculum and only two buildings.

I believe that even the most dedicated and diligent board member would find it impossible to be well-informed on the extremely different educational and social needs of such a wide age-range of children and the additional financial issues of six elementary-school facilities.

Thus, greater influence and power will become vested in the superintendent’s office.

Do we really want this kind of centralization of all decisions affecting education in our towns?

* * *

A merger of elementary schools will also mean that Brattleboro’s elected Town Meeting representatives will no longer have a say in the costs of the three elementary schools and in the social and educational needs of the students.

This system of 135 elected citizens has helped preserve the democratic ideal of Town Meeting in which citizens come together to discuss and debate the issues confronting the town and the schools. Over the years, Town Meeting representatives have listened to the school board present the many issues that our children face and have supported many programs to help our students be successful.

Also, under the preferred merger being proposed, the programs which Brattleboro schools already have, like after-school tutoring, summer school, behavioral interventionists, and free nutritional programs, will be expanded to the outlying towns in order to satisfy the Act 46 goal of equity.

Act 46 was promised as a way of lowering school taxes through efficiencies and through promising tax incentives for four years to lower the school tax.

Since we now know that there will be no tax incentives from a merger — they are now called “transfer costs” and will cover just the costs of merging — the cost of expanding Brattleboro’s programs to other towns will increase Brattleboro taxes.

Right now, Brattleboro’s school tax is lower than the other towns’, but our taxes will have to rise to equal the school tax of other towns. Brattleboro’s town tax rate, however, is one of the highest in Vermont, so adding increased school taxes will place a burden on many taxpayers.

In fact, nothing in this merger will benefit Brattleboro children or taxpayers.

* * *

However, we don’t need to merge in order to meet the Act 46 goals of equity, efficiencies, and transparency.

We can do so by keeping the structure of the current WSESU and providing the expanded educational opportunities, mentioned in the articles of the preferred merger, through the supervisory union and through increased collaboration among the towns.

This scenario is allowed under Act 46 as an alternative governance structure (AGS), and 101 towns in Vermont are currently considering an AGS or have already started an application for one.

Please ask the Brattleboro School Board to join now with other towns like Dummerston, Putney, and Guilford to begin discussions of this kind of structure.

And then vote no on any merger proposal put forth this fall.

What do you think? Leave us a comment

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