Community Forum: School consolidation would incease costs

This week’s writer is Gail Conley, a Huntington resident who is retired after 40 years as an educator in public schools, including serving as interim superintendent of the Addison Central Supervisory Union from 2011 to 2013. He delivered these remarks to the Vermont House Ways and Means and Education committees on April 9.
I am opposed to nearly every detail in H.883. The only aspect of this bill that I can support is the goal of improving opportunities for all Vermont students. This bill eliminates our town school districts and school boards and is not the way to accomplish this goal. Our local boards are positive major assets for our schools and our students.
In this few minutes of testimony, I cannot address every serious problem in this approach. For that reason, I will simply list these topics of concern. I am submitting some brief details on each of these areas:
Potential costs. The rough draft from the Agency of Education for transition costs shows $11,982,700. However, only $2 million of this sum is transition. The additional $9,982,700 are permanent increases for salary parity for our teachers in these larger districts. This parity estimate is probably at least 50 percent too low, I believe. This rough draft does not address the increased costs for these “ increased opportunities” for all Vermont students which these new districts must provide.
The bill requires us to “level up our opportunities.” There is no support in this bill for lowering these opportunities. My conservative estimate of these curriculum increases are in the $5 million to $11 million range. Together these potential increases will range from $14 million to $20 million each year. From a 10-year perspective this bill may lead to a $140 million to $200 million increase in our school budgets.
Some people believe this plan will bend the cost curve in future years. I do not. There are some planned savings in this bill from fewer audits of small districts and some central office reductions. I believe these might lead to a reduction of $2 million to $5 million per year at best.
Most of our supervisory unions are doing great work for all of our students. A few small districts in some supervisory unions need help. Eliminating all of our town school boards is not a positive approach. There is no research or data that supports this change
I believe that the support for this bill from the Vermont Superintendents Association needs more review. We have many great supervisory unions with strong leadership from administrators and board members that should not be destroyed.
This statewide approach requires these new pre-K-12 school boards to level up the curriculum and create salary parity for our teachers. These are both very worthy efforts. At this time very large increases in our budgets are necessary for this effort. In realty this may lead to an unfunded mandate in the range of $140 million to $200 million over the next 10 years. With our present funding system, I believe this is the wrong time and wrong move.
The larger the districts become, the greater the distance between the superintendent and what is really needed and best for the kids in the classroom. The teachers who work with children daily are the best source of improvements. They know what works and what doesn’t. School boards and local control are tremendous assets to the educational system, especially here in Vermont.
Boards are made of the parents and communities immediately surrounding their small schools. When parents visibly support their children’s school and are involved with their children’s education, children flourish and schools are stronger. Meeting regularly with boards give superintendents a sense of the community and their priorities, goals and needs for improvements. Better and regular communication with these folks always gave me a perspective and the direction to lead more effectively.   
Thanks for your time and attention and your commitment to our schools and students.

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