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The Valley Reporter
P.O. Box 119
Waitsfield, VT 05673

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Show up to vote at the town school meetings


By Missy Siner Shea on behalf of the Waitsfield School Board

On behalf of the Waitsfield School Board, I would like to extend a great big thank you to the folks who turned out for the town school meeting on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 6. I'm certain all of the supervisory union school boards feel a similar deep appreciation.

As many of you know, the budgets of the three Valley towns of Fayston, Waitsfield and Warren are not voted upon by ballot or as part of the town budget. These elementary school budgets are voted from the floor. Only those who attend the town school meeting are able to voice their vote.

The children of the Mad River Valley are incredibly lucky to enjoy the level of educational support that exists in our community. Each year, boards are delighted and amazed by our voters. We haven't heard a "nay" vote uttered aloud in the Waitsfield school gym for as long as we can remember.

With sound financial advice from John Pike (the supervisory union business manager), boards work closely with school principals to construct a budget that is fiscally responsible while still providing a high-quality educational experience. We are fully committed to our task of ensuring a fair and appropriate public education for each and every student. The boards go before the voters at town school meeting confident that the budget we have put together is the best possible balance between investment, and return, for our school.

All that notwithstanding, it is truly incredible that the voters are so consistently unwavering in their support of our kids and our schools. That support should not be taken for granted.

According to The Valley Reporter, March 6, 2008, Waitsfield has 1,337 registered voters. On Tuesday, 865 cast their ballots. The room was packed for Town Meeting; at times it was standing room only. After lunch, for the town school meeting portion of the day, it would be generous to estimate that 50 people were in the gym. Of that number, there were about a dozen parents with children currently enrolled, and that is taking into account the board members themselves. I've heard similar tales from the other towns.

Waitsfield's current student enrollment is 152 children, pre-K through sixth grade, which translates to roughly 70 families. Imagine the increase in voter turnout, and therefore support for our kids, if even just one parent from each family were able to come to the meeting and vote.

A significant number of the voters who do make it to the meeting to support the school budget are town elders. Some of these folks have been sitting in that gym on Town Meeting Day, saying aye for 30, 40 and 50 years. They keep supporting our school, now for the good of their grandkids and neighbors' kids and kids they'll never even meet. We deeply respect and appreciate their commitment to public education. But they can't keep doing it forever.

There are many current economic conditions that make it harder and harder for some to support education spending. Many are struggling to pay their fuel oil bills, their mortgages and their grocery bills. Among the various needs competing for a share of our wallets, we need to keep education a top priority so that our kids can become informed consumers, skilled workers and intelligent future leaders.

There is education spending legislation being debated every day in our capital city. Despite the fact that an unprecedented number of school budgets passed at Town Meetings across the state this year, Montpelier continues to put into place measures that could take local control of the school budget process out of the hands of the board and instead tie it up in things like thresholds and penalties.

Over the next few years, the need for Fayston, Waitsfield and Warren parents to show up at their town school meeting to support the budget will become more urgent than we have ever known it to be.

Although I can't cite a formal study, Valley parents have to be among those most dedicated to their children and our schools. Each year the number of attendees at the volunteer breakfast seems to grow. Parents help kids learn to read, they chaperone field trips, and they work all the fundraisers. They attend PTA, school board and other meetings in an effort to help make good decisions about issues that impact our kids. There aren't many things Valley parents wouldn't, and don't, do for our children. We are asking you to add vote for the school budget to an already long list. Your participation makes a difference in more ways than you may realize and it sets an excellent example of civic engagement for all of our students.

We fully empathize with the many understandable conflicts that make getting to the school on Tuesday to vote a challenge. There are the struggles of working parents, parents with young children in tow, the desire to take advantage of our school break as a time for a family getaway, or maybe even just the rare chance to spend a quiet day at home with the kids. The boards are considering things we might do to help overcome such obstacles, such as exploring the idea of providing some kind of childcare at the meeting.

Ultimately, however, voting is both a right and a responsibility of each individual citizen. We strongly encourage Mad River Valley families to make a commitment to their kids, and our school, by showing up to vote at next year's town school meeting.

Missy Siner Shea is chair of the Waitsfield School Board: Wrenn Compere, Troy Kingsbury, Sandy Tarburton, Rob Williams

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