Opinion: Proposed ACSU structure flawed
Unfortunately, the representational structure of the proposed Addison Central School District is flawed.
I say unfortunately because I have long held that single board governance for the district makes sense. My experience a decade ago as a Shoreham school director confirmed this. It makes sense in terms of improving educational services for students. A single board working with a forward-thinking central administration would make it much easier to develop and deliver a well-coordinated K-12 experience for all of our students.
There is little evidence that, the financial incentives offered by Act 46 notwithstanding, consolidating governance structure will save money in the long term. (Consolidation in the 1960s in Vermont was touted as a money saver, but, in fact, did not reduce school costs.) The right reason to pursue consolidation of governance is in the interest of simplicity, allowing education professionals to focus on the welfare of our students. This can be done thoughtfully over the next several years.
The representational structure of the proposed unified school district board is, quite simply, Middlebury-centric. With all members, including those from the small towns, elected at large, we give undue control of educational decisions to the town of Middlebury. In addition to having an absolute majority of representatives (seven of 13) on the board, voters in Middlebury can influence election results in Ripton, Shoreham, Salisbury, Cornwall, Bridport and Weybridge.
If I were to run again the good Nicholas Causton (who is on the ballot for Shoreham, please vote for him) the following result would be entirely possible. Within the town of Shoreham, Nick receives 60 percent of the vote and I, being the lesser choice, receive 38 percent (2 percent don’t like either one of us). Yet, because Middlebury has an absolute majority of voters within the district, I actually win the seat on the board, perhaps because more people in other towns are familiar with me. Now Shoreham is represented by someone the town did not chose to represent them. Not good. The same scenario could play out for Ripton, Weybridge, Cornwall, Salisbury or Bridport.
I have heard and read the arguments that the legal structure under Vermont law makes it difficult to address this problem, that the UD-3 Board is currently structured this way (though without the at large provision) and it functions well enough (hmm … it is Middlebury Union High School not Addison Central Union High School), that the good people who serve on our school board have the interest of all our students at heart (which I don’t doubt).
But, in a representational democracy it is not good practice to elect public officials with a system that gives so much authority to the largest and least rural town in the district. I suggest that we take our time, get the representation on the proposed unified school board right, and then, by all means consolidate the boards. I will be voting against unification in March in hopes that I will be voting for it at a later date.
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