For Westminster, school consolidation would be sacrifice with few benefits

WESTMINSTER — I recently attended the Act 46 school consolidation informational meeting in Westminster for the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union Schools. I have had my doubts about Act 46 and consolidating schools since the legislature passed the bill in haste over a year ago. The informational meeting did not in any way alleviate my concerns.

School consolidation would combine the governance of the elementary and secondary schools of Westminster with the towns of Rockingham, Grafton, and Athens.

The local town school boards would be replaced by a larger 10-member consolidated board comprised of members voted on by all the towns (Rockingham, five members; Westminster, three members; Athens and Grafton, one member each). All governance and budget decisions would be controlled by the new consolidated board.

As a Westminster resident and parent of two children at Westminster Center School, I would like to explain my opposition.

Voters are being asked to approve a plan that will give up much of our voice in the governance and budgets of our elementary and secondary schools - what we have had for generations - for few benefits.

If this consolidation plan passes, our town will lose school choice (all our children would be sent to the Bellows Falls Middle School for seventh and eighth grades), lose our local school board and, in my opinion, have the heart of our Town Meeting torn out with all school votes reduced to a single school-budget vote by Australian ballot.

All decisions concerning our schools will no longer be our own. Under a consolidated board, our townspeople's voices will be watered down when, as parents or voters, we would have to address a 10-member board, the majority from other towns with other concerns.

In addition, all decisions made for our school by this board would no longer be debated and voted on at our Town Meeting. Our only voice will be on an up-or-down single Australian ballot vote for a large consolidated school budget. Westminster's school budget will be buried, lost in a much-larger budget for three other towns as well as an overall administration.

The legislature and state Agency of Education, in drafting these rules for a “preferred” consolidated district, are essentially attempting to do away with our Vermont form of Town Hall participatory democracy. It seems to me that they do not trust the voters of each town to make the decisions to govern their own respective schools. Our politicians should trust us to have a strong local democratic voice to run our schools.

As I have been discussing the implications of Act 46 and school consolidation with my fellow school parents and townspeople, I have yet to find one supporter.

Whatever benefits could be accomplished for individual towns could just as easily be realized through a more democratic system set up through an Alternative Governance model, as is allowed by the Act 46 law, if this vote for consolidation fails.

I urge my fellow Westminster voters and school parents and our neighbors in the other towns in the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union to vote no to school consolidation.

The vote will take place by a simple yes or no vote by Australian ballot on Tuesday, March 7. Thankfully, there will be discussion on this vote during the school portion of town meeting on Saturday, March 4.

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