To The Editor:
The Vermont Coalition for Community Schools (VTCCS) is suing the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) for refusing to allow voters to vote on two petitions submitted January 14. We didn’t make this decision lightly. None of our board members wanted to go through the time, expense and stress of litigation. There are fundamental principles at stake and we feel those principles are worth fighting for, especially when decisions are being made for generations of students, families and taxpayers to come.
The HUUSD is one of eight consolidated districts that doesn’t provide a public vote on school closure. Thirty-eight consolidated districts give voters an opportunity to weigh in prior to closing schools. We believe that HUUSD voters should have the same rights to decide the future of their community schools as voters in other districts.
Voters in every town weighed in on the Articles of Agreement that brought us together in 2016. We deserve the right – always – to consider changes in those agreements at any time. Our communities should be able to discuss changes and vote in a democratic manner. The fact that we were able to gather nearly 1,000 signatures in a week indicates that many voters in the district feel the same.
School closure and school reconfiguration are inextricably linked. Our proposed amendment on reconfiguration does not require the HUUSD Board to seek public input on any decision altering the footprint of an existing school. It would ensure that reconfiguration is not used to undermine vibrant, healthy schools, to make them less financially sustainable and make closure a foregone conclusion.
The HUUSD is facing a number of challenging issues including aging infrastructure, declining enrollment and increasing costs. Neither of the proposed amendments would prevent the HUUSD Board from addressing these issues. Rather, the amendments ensure that the public plays a critical role in the process.
Our proposals would require the HUUSD Board and administration to work collaboratively and in consultation with the public. The board would have to build a clear and compelling case as to why proposals to close or reconfigure a school were necessary and to address community concerns. We believe including the community in these important decisions will foster greater trust in and respect for the HUUSD Board and will ultimately lead to a more cohesive and vibrant school district.
Mariah McGill, president of VTCCS