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Slow down on Act 46

Editor of the Reformer:

Several weeks ago I attended a meeting for Brattleboro residents about the proposed Accelerated Merger which the Study Committee wants all towns to vote on in June. Very few Brattleboro residents were there because there wasn't a lot of publicity about this meeting. That was unfortunate because this Accelerated Merger and the Articles of Association which will govern this district will drastically change the ways our schools have been governed. Instead of local town school boards, there will be an eight member "Super Board" which will make all the decisions, two from Brattleboro, one for each of the other towns and three members elected at large. Several people in the audience immediately expressed deep concern about an eight-member board, foreseeing possible deadlocked decisions when the board is faced with controversial issues in the future. But this is only one of many possible unintended consequences that could come from rushing to vote on this.

I have to assume that the reason the Study Committee is intent on pushing this through is because it will mean an extra 10-cent reduction in taxes the first year. However, as state official Nicole Mace pointed out in a meeting this week in Brattleboro, other configurations of organizing our towns are possible and would bring the same levels of state support for "transfer costs" , except for that first year. Is it worth that one year of 10 cent support to rush into a system that will be set in cement?

One of the goals of Act 46 is equity of opportunity for all students in a district. The Study Committee's presentation emphasized the discrepancies for NCAP scores for students in Brattleboro and the outlying towns. The conclusion was that Brattleboro students did better and that this was because of the extra programs that Brattleboro has established. Therefore, the new merger would provide programs like Brattleboro's to the outlying towns that needed them. David Schoales, a school board member in attendance challenged the scores on the displayed graphs and pointed out that,in fact, proficiency scores on the AIMSweb tests are not all the same in the three Brattleboro schools, in spite of the extra programs. Dummerston's students scored higher than any of the other towns. It seems to me, given the fact that all the extra tax incentive funds will disappear in five years, that it is hasty to rush into providing new programs without being clear about whether they are necessary. It may be possible in a different type of configuration for children and teachers in the outlying towns to participate in some of Brattleboro's programs. We don't need an accelelerated merger to increase opportunity for our children.

Another goal of Act 46 was to create efficiencies, ie, cut costs since the number of students attending our schools is decreasing. At that meeting in Brattleboro, Nicole Mace also said we should not see Act 46 as necessarily an opportunity for tax savings unless we start to realize efficiencies. At the Study Committee meeting I attended, there was a statement by the WSESU that $500,000 would be achieved with this merger but there were very few specifics on how, except that, with a merger, we would need only one audit instead of five. I would need more details of cost savings before I could vote for this.

I hope that Brattleboro residents will attend the next forum on this merger, which hopefully will be well-publicized, and that there will continue to be a solid public discussion of this very important issue.

Judy Davidson, Brattleboro, May 1