Letter: Act 46 is a House of Mirrors
I first showed up in Putney in 1972 to go to Windham College, which, with the benefit of hindsight, was just a horrible waste of my parents' money, and for the last 30 years I've been doing my penance for it. In 1988, at the behest of a Westminster West educator named Claire Oglesby, I ran for a school board seat. Thirty years and three election defeats later, I'm still around.
I've seen an awful lot of fads in education come & go in that time, but by far the most dangerous and hare-brained among them is Act 46, the School Consolidation legislation. This is because the expressed intentions of Efficiency, Accountability & Transparency have somehow failed to put in an appearance. What has shown up in their stead are chaos, threats and coercion.
The chaos is right now, in the midst of the budget season. If our school districts of Athens, Grafton & Westminster are in fact involuntarily combined, Athens & Grafton are gonna take a 20 cent hit on their tax rates to cover Westminster's higher operating costs and its debt. Two legacies those towns will be forced to assume. There's parity here, however, because the two towns will vote four of the six seats on the force-merged school board which gives them a higher degree of budget control. But that is only until Westminster wipes them out by flexing its muscles later on, since three out of every four of the votes in the combined school district will belong to Westminster.
This is how the scenario has been designed to play out across rural Vermont.
The threats and coercion come in the form of the school meetings about to take place to create those new boards. They are being called, not by those communities, but by the Secretary of Education. It is in fact Dan French, the Secretary himself who is signing those Warnings, although Death Warrants might be a more apt description.
It's been a set up from the git-go, enabled by a State Board of Education, which when tasked with making good decisions about which schools were meeting the ostensible goals of Act 46 in their current configurations, and which weren't, adopted a policy which might be best characterized as, "Merge 'em All And Let God Sort Them Out." Regrettably, it's unlikely that the Almighty will be able to act quickly enough to save rural Vermont from the Conflagration.
In sad fact, the Act 46 legislation has been designed from the beginning to meet a very different goal, which is to close the small rural schools while defunding the larger ones at the same time. It's a power play to create an easily manageable top down educational bureaucracy, in which the actual educational and civic health of small Vermont communities doesn't really matter very much.
This is not educational reform, it's a House of Mirrors.
David M. Clark
Westminster, Dec. 5
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