1. I don’t have confidence in a school board that is so obviously divided. Observing their dynamics at meetings makes it clear that a slim majority sways decisions.
2. Only recently, just weeks before Town Meeting Day, after the budget was set, after the teachers invoked a contractual obligation that the board has, was adequate time given for input from teachers.
3. Veteran teachers say the proposed redesign of several schools in the district and its repercussions have caused the lowest staff morale in decades.
4. There is no explanation for how moving students from Moretown Elementary School and Harwood Middle School (new buzzword: “rezoning”) for THE next school year will prove to be an advantage for those students, their teachers or their new classmates.
5. The board hasn’t fully grasped how cutting positions in some areas has ripple effects throughout the unified district due to contractual rules for reducing positions. They have not considered the complicated results of their actions. They appear to think it’s OK to not understand these impacts, two weeks before voters are expected to approve their budget.
6. And, if they aren’t curious about that, I have little hope that they will look deeply at the complex cultural and economic consequences for the towns affected by the decisions they are making now or in the future.
I have voted yes on every school budget proposed in the Harwood district, starting in 1990 when we moved to Moretown. I was proud to do so, never questioning the board’s, the administration’s, or the superintendent’s financial requests. I was confident that sound decisions had been made leading to each budget proposal.
A WISE INVESTMENT
Voting no, for me, doesn’t mean that I am objecting to spending too much money on our schools. Spending taxes on education is a wise investment. Voting no, for me, means that I don’t approve of the direction the school board is taking the district and this is my only way to object. I will vote no on the bond too, which breaks my heart because I know that Harwood’s facilities need major improvements and our other schools do too.
I will cast these votes regretfully, in opposition to the real possibility that students, teachers and families will bear the brunt of poor decisions made by a divided board. To be clear, a divided board is not bad, per se. Disagreement is healthy. But until a strong, solid consensus is obtained, far-reaching and permanent decisions ought not to be made or presented to the public, expecting approval. If the board cannot convince a super majority of its members sitting at the table that what they are doing is right, why should voters be convinced?
I will support a school board that welcomes teachers, parents, students and concerned citizens into the process of overseeing our schools and making hard decisions. Together, we can honor and salvage what already works, and also make innovative improvements to education in our district. My best hope is that a newly configured board – one that includes several people elected on Town Meeting Day, with their new perspectives and fresh energy – will function well. And with constituents’ and teachers’ participation, our new school board will lead us out of this very discouraging and demoralizing period in our unified district.
One final note to the board, new members and current members alike: If the budget gets defeated, please don’t assume that voters want you to make cuts. And if it passes narrowly, please don’t interpret that as a mandate to continue along the path you are on. Open your minds. Recognize that voters want to have more confidence in your decisions. Make that your top priority: building and sustaining trust and confidence among the residents in the district. If you achieve that, then marvel at what you – and we – all of us together can accomplish.
Friberg lives in Moretown, Vermont.