Vermont foliage

Last week, Caitlin Hollister and Torrey Smith, the chair and vice chair of the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board, asked both local newspapers if space could be provided for board members to discuss their approach to making a decision on district redesign. Six board members answered last week. The balance answered this week.

Their answers to the question “How are you approaching the decision ahead on the district's preK-12 plan?” follow in alphabetical order:

Gabe Gilman, Moretown

As we look at competing models of asset use, we must have the wisdom to look beyond managerial convenience and toward a shared vision of community development in which the schools are accountable and integrated contributors to healthy communities. Having merged, the HUUSD’s member towns are in the same boat. This district is very much in competition with others to make itself comparatively attractive – from end to end – to families with children. The retired taxpayer as well as the kindergartner benefits. There are worse incentives to have. We’ll get there by listening to what families actually want, rather than telling them what they should want. Governments reacting to demographic phenomena have a tendency to arrive seven years late with solutions past their use-by date. Humility about our ability to predict the future augurs for configurations that minimize debt and disruption and maximize future flexibility.

Tim Jones, Fayston

I am approaching the decision ahead on the district’s preK–12 plan by dovetailing my experiences with those of the community at-large to make the most thoughtful and informed decisions we can. It is a privilege to be tasked with this service role, take advantage of all the work investment that has preceded us and represent stakeholder interests. I look forward to the coming weeks of community engagement and board deliberation. Nothing is decided.

No matter your school district customer status, the decisions ahead need to serve all interests. Our district education design is a currency across all towns that we are fiercely protective of. The Act 46 process represented a promising opportunity to harmonize operations and identify specific opportunities to deliver education quality standards through earnest cost saving considerations. My goal is to exhaust the ways we can float all boats without diminishing what is great about life here.

Garett MacCurtain, Duxbury

I’m approaching the district’s redesign plan through the lens of my experience on both the old Harwood High School board and now on the HUUSD Board. Throughout that time, one major theme has been the need for Harwood renovation. We have delayed that work for too long. All of our students matriculate to Harwood, which is and should be our flagship institution. A high-quality high school will benefit students but all residents as well. The Harwood bond was put on hold in order for our communities to come together and take advantages of the cost-saving tax breaks that Act 46 mergers promised. At that time our community overwhelmingly voted for the merger because they wanted us to maximize operational efficiency while bringing high-quality equitable education to all students in our district. I believe that is what we are trying to do by looking at all options around HUUSD redesign.

Maureen McCracken, Waterbury

I want to save money if we can find obvious places to do that. However, it is already clear that there are no easy savings because every option we have seen has trade-offs. The trade-offs I will be looking closely at are: 1. Middle school class size and resources – how do we ensure a healthy student/teacher experience with appropriate class sizes and space for languages/applied academics? 2. High school viability and vibrancy – will the building that we plan to invest in serve an optimal number of kids, and have the staff to offer the varied programs that are critical for that age group? 3. Preschool and younger – will we have the space to offer our current programs but also expand in that area – as has been recommended – to encourage more families and lower tax rates? 4. Impacts of construction – how can we minimize construction projects across the district?

Theresa Membrino, Fayston

I am: 1. Supportive of investing in Harwood. 2. Concerned the change scenarios we have underinvest in quality, especially at Crossett Brook. We need to dig in and potentially add costs to these models to ensure quality. 3. Taking a risk-reward approach regarding school closures. On paper, the reward appears to be about 5 cents, which is $150/year on a $300K home, not including income sensitivity adjustments. Without proper risk analysis and mitigation, tax savings could evaporate,  potentially costing us more than the status quo. I urge us to do our due diligence. 4. Concerned for our economy that 85 percent-plus of change scenario savings is teachers/staff (15-25 headcount reduction). These are middle-class jobs, often with children, critical to our district. 5. Focusing on long term. I’m not afraid of hard decisions, but they need to be the right ones – ensuring that we can attract and retain families for decades.

Kristen Rodgers, Moretown

This isn't an easy question to answer at this point. I feel there are still a number of questions that need to be answered including whether a change should even be made at all. A major part of this entire process is the community, which up to this point has had a very limited chance to be heard. Community input is not only vital but extremely important given the gravity of the decisions we could be making. The district deserves respect and full transparency into any board decisions and the logic used to support them. And, this is how I will approach the preK-12 planning.

Alex Thompson, Waterbury

I will approach this decision by trying to balance the needs of all children and taxpayers in all towns. I will think about the children in the elementary schools now but also as they enter high school. Will they have safe science labs, a pre voc tech program, adequate AP classes, a high school track, enough field space, a great music program? I will think about all taxpayers in the district and whether they will be able to keep funding the school budgets, especially as we make long overdue changes to our high school. I would like to challenge each of you to think about not only what your child needs today in their current elementary school but beyond. What can your neighbor with or without children afford? I believe that if we think as a greater community and district, we will be able to accomplish amazing things.