I am responding to the editorial written by Chris Keating last week. It's too bad that The Valley Reporter, whose work is protected at its foundation by the First Amendment, has chosen to ride the wave of this issue to write this piece without checking the facts. Maybe he thinks because an editorial is an opinion piece that it doesn't have to respect truth. One would think that he would celebrate the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board coming into compliance with free speech rights.
First, he questions my statement that the proposals around redesign are all coming from Brigid Nease. I make this statement based on what is presented on the HUUSD website. I regard the website as the official voice and representation of the board's policies. If you go to the Redesign tab (5/27/18) on the website you will find several proposals and papers all written by Brigid or in conjunction with other administrative staff. There are no articles with any board member’s name attached. There are also two Quicklinks to interviews with Brigid.
LIKE A BOMB
The board originally voted to ask Brigid to create a redesign proposal which was published on December 12, 2017. This hit the community like a bomb. It proposed closing two Valley schools and sending all Valley fifth- and sixth-graders to Crossett Brook Middle School. While it did say this was only a starting point many people were naturally upset. I say it was like presenting a Paul Ryan redesign proposal without a corresponding Barak Obama redesign. Even Brigid concedes, "In hindsight, it may have been a better idea to develop all the possible scenarios and then present them, rather than to share our partial work as we completed it." – Brigid Nease, 3/20/18 Report to the Community.
In this situation, the board utterly failed to exercise its responsibility. It should have reviewed her proposal before publication and then had a vote on whether to release it. Maybe during this discussion someone on the board would actually have had the foresight to see what a stinker this proposal was. Also, then board members would be on record of voting for or against this redesign.
MAKE CHANGES INCREMENTALLY
Brigid has a very aggressive approach to redesign. There is nothing that can guarantee that it will save money or improve educational opportunities and it would be almost impossible to reverse. Of course, that's true of any proposal. But before we make such drastic changes I believe we should take our time and make changes incrementally. The worst that will happen is that our taxes will go up for the next year or two. That does not mean we are heading for an iceberg.
I stand by my statement that the only official voice we are hearing about redesign is from Brigid, who is not a board member. I understand that there are many valuable discussions going on in numerous forums around redesign. I would like to see them presented on the board's website with a board member’s name attached so I can know where they stand and hear a different voice than Brigid's. That will help me decide how I want to vote when the opportunity comes.
Next, The Valley Reporter editorial notes that "Fleisher claimed that 75 percent of the community opposed school redesign according to a survey that the school board conducted and released earlier this year. That calculation is his own. That figure does not reflect the community engagement committee's interpretation. ..."
It's true – that figure is my own. And it closely matches the survey result at 72 percent opposition.
I went through every one of the 449 responses to the survey question:
"Q3: What would you like to tell or ask us about District Redesign? (Note there will be a link at the end of the survey to Superintendent Nease's position paper on this topic)" – Page 7 of the survey.
While there is a subjective element to the analysis of people who had a positive or negative opinion I got 270 negative and 90 positive. That is 75 percent negative. And the question clearly referenced Brigid's position paper.
A superficial look at the official survey totals presented would show 143 negative to 100 positive – nowhere near the 75 percent negative I got. But doing only the slightest critical examination of the results shows a strong bias tilted toward reducing the impact of the negative responses. All the positive responses (Positive/there is merit/Hopeful 100) are grouped into one category. But the negative responses are broken up into four categories: Caution/worry 93; Negative/don't like 143; Trust issue implied 21; Disparaging comments/not useful 4. If you add all these together as negative comments (and if you go through the actual survey answers like I did they are negative) you get 261 negative responses to 100 positive responses. This is 72 percent negative. With a 3 percent difference between my totals and the survey totals that is certainly within the margin of error. So, I stand by my statement that 75 percent of the survey responses were negative toward Brigid's redesign. I would have explained this to the board, but Christine Sullivan's stingy three-minute limitation on comments prevented that. I guess it was just too much work for the editorial writer to look critically at the data and see what it was really showing.
He could easily have contacted me and I would have gladly explained what I have explained here. There is so much misinformation and outright false information in the world today I would hope that our local newspaper can make just a little more effort to present the truth. There are important decisions to be made regarding the school district in the coming years and we all owe it to the community to contribute our best.
Fleisher lives in Waitsfield.