Opinion: Davis wrong in Act 46 criticism

Political columnist Eric Davis’s recent piece railing against Act 46 and school district unification is a good example of the type of old-style thinking we need to move away from to advance education and face the challenging headwinds of declining enrollment and increasing property taxes. It is also clear that Eric has not attended a school meeting in a long time to understand the reality of education governance today.
Those of us solidly behind unification in the Addison Central Supervisory Union are not in it for the financial carrots of Act 46. We had been discussing the educational benefits years before the law was conceived. Why? We have witnessed the challenges of trying to move a school system forward when every effort must go through eight school boards totaling 50 people. We have witnessed the inability to be flexible and creative as our school populations have dropped precipitously over the past 20 years because we are in our separate silos called towns.
We have witnessed the challenges of all of our district children coming together in middle school with vastly different levels of achievement from differently funded schools — some have taxpayers with resources to offer much; some struggle each year to cut more and more. We have watched as resources have to be used to bring students up to grade level rather than offer more opportunities or lower spending.
We have witnessed significant turnover, from the teacher level (little job security as the newest teacher in a shrinking school), to superintendent (try attracting top talent to a job with 50 bosses and a night meeting schedule that is beyond ridiculous). We have watched investment in professional development walk out the door as people look for better opportunities, only to have to spend it again on new hires.
Unification will bring a unity of purpose, goals and vision for all of our students in the six towns. We can no longer afford to be walled in by town lines, or every school will begin a slow death by a thousand (budget) cuts as student population continues to go down. We have to be careful of making the common mistake of thinking that without unification and without Act 46 we can all continue along as things are — even add programs if we want. Wrong. More and more, local taxpayers will have to start paying the real cost of operating tiny schools, and that means the difficult conversations over each school’s future will to take place regardless of unification, and probably much, much sooner.
Eric Davis also implies that each member of the proposed new 13-member board will only think of his or her town and his or her students to the exclusion of others. This is not a very generous assessment. And it certainly does not reflect the current reality of the majority our ACSU students, who already attend a unified district (UD-3, a k a grades 7-12 at Middlebury Union high and middle schools) governed by 13-member board with the same make-up proposed in the new unified district: seven people from Middlebury and one each from the rural towns.
As a longtime member of that board, I can say that never in my experience have members only looked out for their town’s children or taxpayers. There is a common understanding that these children will hopefully grow up to be our neighbors and part of our broader community. In reality, many UD-3 board members couldn’t tell you what towns all of their fellow board members are from. The Middlebury representatives have unanimously supported chairmen from rural towns over the past five years. And the rural reps have done likewise for Middlebury chairmen for many years before that.
After all, we sit together as neighbors, regardless of town of residence, at football games, at band concerts, at plays, chaperoning trips, and on and on. It is time to work together for the best education of all of our students, together as one district.
Disclaimer: The above opinion is my own and not meant as a statement of any board or committee I am affiliated with.
Peter Conlon

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