A disaster of this magnitude has left deep wounds in our communities. They need to be made whole.

Vermont’s school-funding formula was supposed to provide equal opportunity for our children statewide. A generation — a generation! — of bright, creative, powerful young people has been schooled on a crazily un-level playing field.

WHITINGHAM — Like everyone I know and work with at nine Vermont public schools and three town boards-of-authority, I am filled with sadness and shame and outrage!

Public trust in our institutions of government is the foundation of democracy.

Without it, we can only create scapegoats in the place of justice, and corruption in place of integrity.

Restoring public trust requires us to address these egregious wrongs openly and authentically. Only when we can stand in the presence of the actual and continuing harm can we act effectively to stop, change direction, and repair the crippling damage.

I humbly beg that what follows be heard in this light. And what follows is a bitter pill to swallow. And a lot of people have already swallowed much.

The catastrophe revealed by the Pupil Weighting Factors Report (the “Weighting Study”) must be put right, completely and immediately, as the emergency it is.

Forget about “phased rollouts;” that will be seen as glib phraseology for an accounting trick. A disaster of this magnitude has left deep wounds in our communities - and this has not stopped!

Lives are at stake. Children and families are still being deprived of vital needs, through mandated misuse of our tax dollars. This cannot be patched up. It must be ended, proactively and unequivocally, and those injured must be clearly made whole.

* * *

Regarding my claim as a witness, to make these sweeping statements, there are two areas in which my livelihood has placed me on the front lines.

Since well before Act 46, and throughout the mergers, I have served as recording secretary for Leland & Gray, Townshend, Newfane, Jamaica, Wardsboro, Newfane, Brookline, Dover, and Marlboro, as well as the Brookline Selectboard, and as clerk of the Whitingham Planning Commission. Since consolidation, I have continued taking the minutes for the combined Windham Central Supervisory Union school districts at their public meetings.

This experience has put me in a front-row seat as several small rural communities struggle to comply with complex and often seemingly arbitrary new laws, under shrinking budgets and rising costs - profoundly skewed by flawed weighting in a badly designed piece of legislation.

Despite this, again and again, every one of these boards, and every individual member, rises to the occasion with unswerving commitment and integrity. These citizens do all they can to provide the highest possible quality in public education, against stunning adversity. It is an unstinting labor of love. There is not one bad apple in the whole load, not one!

I record these extraordinary expressions of democracy in action in detail for the public record, professionally constrained to witness accurately but silently. This experience bolsters my faith in community, democracy, and humanity. Seeing firsthand so much that affects our lives so deeply, I have rarely felt called upon to speak up.

But now, this.

In Vermont, to find such a level of blatant contempt for children flies in the face of everything I have learned about the dedication, wisdom, and downright count-on-able-ness of ordinary Vermonters. If this is truly our democracy in action, our collective expression is one of contempt for children, which is self-hatred verging on mental illness. This may be hard to sit with, as public servants.

But the results of that contempt are blindingly clear.

* * *

This brings me to the second area of my direct, daily contact with the tragic disaster under discussion: I have also witnessed how kids confront unbelievable odds every day just getting to school. Since retiring from my software engineering business, it's been my honor and privilege to conduct them safely there and home again, every day, for almost a decade.

I now understand that when I first took the wheel of a school bus, the scheme had been going on for more than 12 years, despite an annual auditing mechanism in the law to forestall adverse impacts. But although I could not know the structural causes, I did see the rise of pervasive sleep deprivation, malnutrition, loneliness, and humiliation that is the true face of childhood poverty.

It is not that we were unaware of unacceptable disparities; everyone knew!

That is what convinced us to endure Act 46. It wasn't to save money; nobody believed it would do that. It was to find a way to bring equity to the system!

The mergers might never have been contemplated but for the obvious disparities in educational resources among districts - mysterious no longer, thanks to the Weighting Study.

Everyone knew about the disparities, and everyone was working to correct them, for years, never knowing about the underlying erosion of the very fabric of our communities.

This is not the same old systemic wealth disparity we know only too well in America, not routine injustice, not “just the way it is.” It is not normal. It is an anomaly.

And, we must see it at the scale of its long-range impact. We failed to see it when it was just a missing horseshoe nail. We now find ourselves confronted by serious and growing social consequences.

No good handing out horseshoe-nails now; what about all the lost horses, lost battles - the lost cause of an informed public, a pillar of Democracy on that foundation-stone of public trust?

It won't do. Repairing the system is not enough. Families have been wounded for a generation, and this wrong must be addressed specifically.

Parents wept openly at recent school board meetings, hearing about the Weighting Study for the first time. Those not shocked into stunned silence rose, one after another to speak, and then found they could not speak. They were choked with emotion as awful realization began to take hold and as they confronted the years of struggle and worry they and their children have undergone, only to find it was all unnecessary - and then, further, that the next town had no such problems!

They learned how their young adult children had been so callously deprived of a future now closed to them forever, and they were distraught. Now, they are outraged! And now they are on the alert.

This kind of wordless public input doesn't go into school board minutes. The recorder does not write, “Weeping ensued.”

But that may change.

Emerging public awareness of the full extent of the damage is at least as painful and difficult to confront as the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene. The less visible but equally vital roads of diligence and bridges of integrity are easily washed downstream when public trust is blown away.

Integrity and diligence. No more than every parent, teacher, administrator, and board member has brought to their work every day and every night - tirelessly, faithfully, and with unwavering attention to detail. Democracy in action. Community at its best. That does show up in the minutes, by the way: people sticking with it until they get it right.

* * *

Now we see that a generation - a generation! - of bright, creative, powerful young people has been schooled on a crazily un-level playing field. And what are the lessons learned? I don't mean, “What have you learned?” I mean, “What has this been teaching our children? That privilege and power are the right of the privileged and powerful, that poverty is the just reward of the poor, and devil take the hindmost?

Now, emancipated and armed with this hard-won knowledge, parents will decide how to vote, or whether to vote at all, as they watch the campaigns on their screens like some trivialized sports event, with the helpful encouragement of bots and hackers and troll farms, foreign and domestic. They have been dropped off the deep end, without the swimming lessons some of their neighbors have enjoyed. Lost educational opportunities can never be restored to them!

I wouldn't be surprised if they don't vote at all. Like the time my brother found a dead porcupine in the spring. No wonder his kids wouldn't drink any water that year!

It isn't going to work just to toss the rotting carcass away - the whole system must be mucked out. But you can't flush the sad consequences out of this system with a little bleach. How will the luckier recipients of this 20-year bureaucratic windfall deal with us when they, under this invisible head-start program, hold offices of public trust? They will find a precedent here, one way or the other.

And now, we hear that plans are being seriously put forth to go slow, to make incremental adjustments. How will adding insult to injury restore our sacred public trust? Lives have been ruined, and lost! Children are still being abandoned! Life is still at stake!

And the response would be “phased?” For shame!

* * *

This is a statewide flood emergency and a deadly epidemic. The impacts will continue for generations to come, even if full reparations are made - and that should not even be a question!

Our democracy is a living, breathing organism in a living, interactive environment. If you ever wonder about the root causes of executive malfeasance, legislative corruption, or judicial subversion, look no farther than a dysfunctional public education system.

Now is the chance to get something right, for our elected officials to make the difference they entered public service to make. We are hoping against hope for a truly level playing field and meaningful redress for those who fell through the artificial, long-neglected cracks in our failed educational funding system.

Penalties and reparations must be on the table, right alongside equitable reallocation.

To do less will make this damage permanent and irreparable - both to the public trust and to the time-honored and enviable character of our beloved Vermont.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates