Don McLean: The value of local school boards

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In the discussion on the approaching vote on school consolidation, I have yet to see any comment on the value of our local school boards themselves, other than the general reference to the positive value of local control. I served four years on the Guilford Town School Board, two years as chair, and, thorough district-wide committees and time on the supervisory union board got to know board members from the other towns and the Brattleboro Union High School district, and to work with many of these people.

School boards have long been a target for withering criticism, and, indeed, we often think of boards in some states banning books, enabling segregation, and in general, living up to a famous Mark Twain quip about school boards — which you may easily find on Google. But I found the school board members I worked with — both in Guilford and in the larger district — to be intelligent, supportive of our teachers, progressive on policy, committed to the concerns of taxpayers, and dedicated to the students.

School board members receive a modest stipend — it varies from town to town, but in Guilford was $800 per year when I served 20 years ago, and it's still the same today. One of my colleagues and I amused ourselves once by calculating that counting work on both town and district committees, we were being paid well under minimum wage. In fact, the service provided by board members gives the taxpayers the best return on their money of any of the positions within the supervisory union. As Act 46 purports to have as one of its goals a brake on costs, it would seem the Vermont legislature has given us a mandate to make a drastic cut on exactly the wrong end of the animal.

There's also the already widely discussed issue of local control. It does feel as though the folks in Montpelier don't trust us in the towns to know what works best in our own school system.

Don McLean lives in Guilford. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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