In response to Rob Williams’, HUUSD school redesign – the time is now, opinion expressed in the September 12, 2019, edition: 

While I thank you for your service to our community, I must respectfully disagree with many of your assertions regarding the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD).

Shared History – You’re correct that our communities overwhelmingly supported the merger; however, when one is told repeatedly that there is no other choice, that the state will do it anyway (without our having any say in the Articles of Agreement), that we will not reap the benefits of property tax incentives and that no schools will be closed, then yes, I guess the term “supported” loosely applies.  I’d like to include a direct quote by our superintendent at the time (pre-merger):

“…School closures by one large board are clearly another fear.  No school closures are envisioned in this plan … honestly, school closure is more likely to happen sooner without a merger …” Yet there we were, 18 months post-merger and the superintendent disseminates a white paper with concrete plans to close two Valley schools. 

“After several years of focus, informed work and careful study of all options by our district leadership team and board trustees (a misnomer, as board members are representatives, NOT trustees – see Articles of Agreement, Article 7), it’s clear that closing Fayston School and merging our two middle schools makes the most strategic sense – pedagogically, fiscally and programmatically.”

This contention is flawed. To date there is no indication of any legitimate, evidence-based research conducted on any of the scenarios to close or merge schools.  By “careful study,” you’re referring to placing dots on sheets of paper? Many have implored the board and administration to seek out relevant analysis on the effects of closing and/or merging schools on students and their communities.  Our community has yet to see any detailed information to explain cost savings and/or continued (hidden) costs of closing schools, including the issues of transportation and renovation.

A quick Google search produces a plethora of studies such as the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) study, which confirmed, “Closing schools in the name of improving student achievement is a high-risk/low-gain strategy that fails to increase students’ achievement or their overall well-being.”

The same NEPC study found that students struggle academically, socially and emotionally after their school is closed.

The recent numbers by ReArch (see board packet 9/11/2019) would seem to debate your “fiscal” argument.  Anywhere from $2 to $6 million to renovate Crossett Brook Middle School, for a process that isn’t even born out of the administration’s own research (see 2019-06-05  If you read the full article, and not just what is presented on the website, you’ll see that the research concludes that grade configuration has very little to do with students’ academic and social/emotional success.  Our administration has been trying to sell the ‘4-4-4 configuration’ for years to further its own agenda to move all of The Valley fifth- and sixth-graders as well as Harwood Middle seventh- and eighth-graders to Crossett Brook.  We deserve to know the real reason behind this move, particularly if it’s going to cost us some $2 to $6 million (at least) to make it happen. 

Trust the Process – This would be the process of the HUUSD Board plowing ahead with a PreK-12 redesign plan without any input from its constituents?  This would be holding discussions and votes on said redesign plan in June, during the busiest time of the school year?  This would be moving at warp speed from 27-plus scenarios (see dots on paper comment above) to three, again with no input from the community?  This would be without any outside research or analysis to determine if this is truly the way to improve students’ education and reduce costs? Is this the process we’re supposed to trust?

Speak Up - But not if you’re connected to a “loud vocal minority” who “derails the process of the board conducting its work,” correct?  It shouldn’t matter if it’s two people or 200, we are your constituents – the people who live in our towns and send our children to our incredible schools.  “Our families are already voting with their feet.”  On this we can agree – and it’s high school families who are choosing other options – not our elementary school families.  And yet in all of the redesign conversations taking place at the board table, this is never addressed. 

Where are the things we were promised when we approved the merger? 

  • Creating robust programming at all levels while better able to reduce per pupil spending (should there have been an asterisk here, saying we’d have to close schools to get this?)
  • Expand School Choice (how many were turned away from Moretown this fall?)
  • Lower costs by sharing resources, streamlining operations…improve opportunities such as the arts, sports and before and after school programs (I believe we’ve seen cost savings on supplies and food service…what percentage is this in the overall budget?)

Closing and/or merging schools has not been proven to be cost-effective or beneficial to students…why are we doing this? 

Laura Schaller lives in Moretown, Vermont.