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The Commons
Voices / Letters from readers

Alternative Governance Structure would help preserve local control of our schools

Originally published in The Commons issue #429 (Wednesday, October 11, 2017). This story appeared on page E3.

Residents of Brattleboro, Guilford, Putney, and Dummerston should be on the alert. A vote coming up on Tuesday, Nov. 7 concerns merging all of our schools under the supervision of a nine-member board and the administration.

All of the present school districts will lose their locally elected school boards, the opportunity to present and discuss their separate budgets at local town meetings, control over teachers and where they teach, and — most of all — ownership of their school buildings and grounds, property that they have worked so hard to build and maintain. The buildings and grounds will belong to and be controlled by the Super District, if this merger passes, not the individual towns. The above are only a few things local towns will lose.

Brattleboro: Your taxes will go up! Right now, Brattleboro has the lowest education homestead tax rate at 1.5976 per $100 assessed value. Brattleboro’s municipal tax rate is by far the highest of the other communities. If the merger passes, your education homestead tax rate would most likely go up, as Brattleboro would then be partly responsible for their share of any of the outlying towns’ debt, any deferred maintenance, and any additional programs to create “equity” in all towns.

Guilford, Putney, and Dummerston: The most important issue for your towns is that your respective schools could be closed without a vote of your town. This is according to the articles of agreement that the Study Committee has drawn up over the objections of members of the outlying towns. It has already been said several times that Brattleboro could absorb all of Guilford’s students without adding any teachers.

Some other things you would lose: you would no longer own your school and property; you would no longer have a local school board; you would no longer have a local budget to be discussed and voted on at Town Meeting; you would no longer have the ability to hire your own teachers and make your own decisions, and you would have only one voting member on the nine-member Super Board.

Brattleboro’s votes would control everything. Please keep in mind what happened with the Windham Solid Waste District.

You also would not have control of your students and where they would go. Putney and Dummerston, be particularly aware, as your middle-school students could be moved to the Brattleboro Area Middle School without any say of the community.

While this all sounds horrible to a lot of residents, it is not the only option, even though the members of the Study Committee will tell you it is. An Alternative Governance Structure (AGS) is actually an accepted model in the Act 46 law, and it is described as a “supervisory union composed of multiple member districts, each with its separate school board.”

Our supervisory union could meet the goals of Act 46 with some tweaking. Everyone feels the legislation’s goals are admirable, and our union already meets a lot of them. This is exactly what some groups in the area are working on. Brattleboro and Dummerston have both formed AGS committees and have been working together on enhancing our supervisory union. Members from Vernon, Putney, and Guilford have joined in the conversation. A very large group of citizens, from all of the towns, has been meeting for over a year discussing alternatives to merging.

This Alternative Governance Structure can only be addressed if the merger vote fails. I ask that you give our present structure — one that has worked so well for more than 50 years — a chance to comply with Act 46’s goals. So please vote no, and let us work together to achieve the best education for our children — and the best education for our local schools and communities.

Dan Normandeau


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