Equity does not mean equal

Dummerston Town School Board rebuts Statehouse testimony of Brattleboro board chair

DUMMERSTON — Our board listened with great interest to Jill Stahl Tyler's 45-minute testimony arguing against delay of forced mergers. We would be derelict in our duty if we did not correct the record.

In her testimony, Tyler quoted teachers at Brattleboro Union High School who said, “Dummerston students are not as prepared as Oak Grove students [one of Brattleboro's elementary schools]” and attributed Brattleboro students' success to tutoring programs that other schools did not have. We disagree.

As Tyler mentioned, our Dummerston middle schoolers consistently are top scorers in both Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests. In 2017, Dummerston eighth graders were 93 percent proficient in English Language Arts and 87 percent proficient in Math, compared with state averages of 55 percent and 41 percent, respectively.

Superintendent Lyle Holiday said there are no reports from high school staff or administrators of Dummerston students not being academically prepared.

Dummerston invests heavily in academic coaches, and we are proud of our faculty and principal for preparing all our students for high school. In no way do we mean to lessen the accomplishments of Brattleboro students and teachers - they are doing great things as well. However, we cannot allow Tyler's testimony about our community go unchallenged.

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We agree that Act 46 has had a positive impact on our ability to work collaboratively to do better for all our children. Equity does not mean equal, but we have made great strides in equity within the WSESU. Many positive changes have come from working together to figure out what works for our communities and to address the inequities noted three years ago by the Study Committee.

For example, Tyler noted that Brattleboro has teacher leaders, and the other school do not.

All WSESU schools have teacher leader positions, though they are not always labeled by that name. Guilford added a second position for next year.

She also stated that only Brattleboro has behaviorists, but this is also no longer true. For the past two years, behaviorists are provided through our consolidated special education department for all WSESU schools to students on special-ed plans that require them. This is an example of how our highly effective supervisory union performs.

Smaller districts have their own unique opportunities not offered in Brattleboro, such as Putney's forest program and our offering of a six-afternoon winter activities program for all students K-8, offered to only a few grades in Brattleboro.

Pre-kindergarten was also identified as a large inequity by the Study Committee, and Guilford was noted as especially needing this program to attract students. Guilford is in its second year of pre-K and has expanded it to the point they now provide the most full-day pre-K per-pupil opportunities of any school in the supervisory union.

Our Dummerston board has saved funds to start our pre-K next year and have included it in our next budget. We are thrilled to maintain a level tax rate while offering free full-time pre-K for our town's 4-year-olds.

Our colleagues in Guilford, both the board and principal, have been very helpful in assisting us through the process, which serves as a shining example of what collaboration can accomplish.

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Tyler also spoke about our board's unwillingness to comply with the law contrasted with the time spent by the Study Committee complying with the law. Our board participated on the Study Committee and then worked with members of all the WSESU boards for an additional year on the Alternative Governance Structure.

We met extensively, analyzed the data, and created a new structure to comply with the goals of the act and asked only that our AGS structure be judged on the ability to meet those goals and the pathway laid out by you in the Legislature to meet the goals.

Our districts are under additional challenges, as the fate of Vernon, our SU partner, has not been determined. The state board has discussed merging WSESU with WNESU or moving Vernon to WCSU at some point in the near future. This could mean two governance changes in two years, a waste of board and SU time and energy that could be prevented by a delay.

If Vernon moves to another SU this year, as some have advocated, their revenues would be removed from our SU and Special Education. We would be faced with either deficit spending, SU cuts, or sizable increases in our SU assessments, which would impact our tax rate.

Our board advocates that Vernon remain with our SU to keep our economies of scale and assure that Vernon students are prepared for Brattleboro Union High School, where most Vernon students matriculate.

Allowing the State Board to make these decisions and then give our boards (and Vernon) a chance to plan for a single governance would be good for our taxpayers and our students.

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