I have seen all of the letters and heard the words discouraging the Act 46 merger of the local school systems.
I understand people’s concerns. I have been on the Act 46 study committee from the beginning and believe that the merger will help the students of all of the schools.
One of the concerns I keep hearing is the lack of local control. Currently, there are 28 elected members to the school boards, from the four towns in the merger plan — 29, if you count the one representative from Vernon on the Brattleboro Union High School board.
In the merger plan, each school would get a leadership council, which will make many of the decisions the local school boards make now. I know such a group is not the same as an elected body, but believe me, they are as strong as we could make them. With five to seven people on each leadership council, one an elected board member, that would make a minimum of 50 people involved in the leadership of the 10 schools that would comprise this new entity. All of them would be answerable to the public.
A second concern I have heard is about the cost or cost savings. I know we cannot say for sure that we will save money or how much we would save. No one can.
There are some unknowns here, but the fear of the unknown should not stop us from doing what we can for our young people. Also, when you balance the potential positives in educational quality and equity with a potential cost savings, isn’t this the right thing to do?
Having the flexibility to give all of our kids (and, yes, they are our kids) the best education possible and not being stopped by a town line is an opportunity we should not pass up.
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Another thing people have expressed fear about is the loss of a school to a small community or town.
Yes, if enrollment shrinks in a town or at a school, closing that school could be a possibility. Guess what? It is also a possibility now.
In a merged system, the smaller schools have more, not fewer, safeguards to keep them in their communities. Having flexibility across town lines can give the merged (unified) district a chance to keep kids in school in their town.
Also, under the merger plan, it would take longer than one year from the first talk of closing a school until it would happen, with much public input and conversations along the way. I am not saying that process would totally save a school, but people won’t wake up one day to find their school is gone. That cannot happen.
Over the past two years, I have heard people at our Act 46 Study Committee meetings or in town say to me that we have not heard what the people who are against the merger have said, and that is simply not true.
Just because someone does not change their mind after hearing and listening to your argument does not mean you were not heard. I believe that the people on the study committee have not only heard, but truly listened to, what people in our communities have had to say and then they made the decisions they were elected to make, weighing the options, ideas, and determining what is in the best interest of our kids and communities.
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Lastly, I want to talk about fear.
For human beings, fear is a powerful motivator, but we cannot let fear keep us from making good decisions. It would be easy to stick with what we have always known and not change, but I believe we have to ask the question: “Is that a good idea?”
Fear of change can keep us from moving forward, and I do not believe our country was founded on fear, but rather what is best for everyone.
I think there are even some people who would rather us spend our time and energy not trying to find our own way to comply with the law, but instead to actively defy the law.
Believe me, after I heard that opinion from more than one person in town, I thought long and hard about it as an option. I asked myself: What would it accomplish? Would it be better for our kids? Would it save money? Would it give more local control? Would it keep significantly under-enrolled schools in town? It’s not an alternative.
So I am asking you to vote on Nov. 7 — not out of fear, but with the thought of what is best for our kids.
And while you vote, keep in mind that moving forward and changing is hard and scary and will not always be smooth, but if we do so together, we can make the changes necessary to give our kids the best education possible.
Isn’t that the best thing for the next generation and for the one after that?