By Tracy Brannstrom
The seemingly endless saga of exploring the pros, cons and difficult questions regarding the statewide effort to consolidate school districts across Vermont is still at play.
On Wednesday, a small group of community members gathered at 7:30 a.m. at Warren Elementary School to keep discussing the implications of an accelerated version of Act 46 – for which community members will vote on June 7 – and of the law in general.
Downsides to merger?
What are the downsides to the Act 46 accelerated merger? What are the financial consequences of voting no?
Beth Schoellkopf and other community members will host a discussion about these questions on Thursday, April 28, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Big Picture Theater in Waitsfield. Everyone is welcome.
While the Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) has studied how to pursue an accelerated merger, “Some of us across The Valley thought we would like to have a discussion about what happens if we vote no for accelerated consolidation,” Schoellkopf said. “We do have the choice to vote no and there are pros and cons of that decision.”
The discussion touched on whether financial benefits that come with the accelerated version of the law are worth what is perceived to soon crumble if the acceleration takes effect: control of local schools by people who care most about them.
Warren School Board member and Act 46 study committee member Jen Watkins said that the community may see a “safe space” transform into a “bigger machine” in which parents, teachers and others will feel lost and vulnerable.
One community member said that the law, generally speaking, is creating a culture of competition – demonstrated through public discussions had by the Act 46 study committee, which is composed of two representatives from each Valley school.
“You can already see that towns are trying to assert their schools ... out of competitive, negative energy.”
A Granville school board member and Warren School parent said that in Granville, school board members and taxpayers were told they would save $500,000 with their accelerated consolidation, but they are currently $300,000 over budget after merging.
Others questioned whether quality of education would really increase with the law as is often put forth by the state and the Act 46 study committee.
Warren board member and Act 46 study committee member Alycia Biondo told community members, “That piece is up to us.” She explained that the school’s parent teacher organization (PTO), in concert with community members, will continue to create educational programs for students, regardless of the law. She said that a “vision for education” is not lost with the law’s implementation.
Warren principal Beth Peterson agreed. “I think the people at this table create this [quality education]. I think it has nothing to do with the [merged] board and where they sit,” she said. The desire to maintain Warren School as a unique environment with enriching programs for kids “has nothing to do with the greater governance structure.”
Community and school board members discussed for about an hour and then acknowledged, “There are more questions than answers.”