Opinion: ACSU board unification plan gives all towns a say

In a recent letter to this newspaper Peter Lynch proposed voting against consolidation of the nine Addison Central Supervisory Union school districts into a single one because of the way the new board will be structured. I would like to present a different perspective.
Under the new board structure there will be at least one member from each town, keeping a degree of local representation. However, all members are elected at large, meaning that all voters in all seven towns get to decide who will be on that board. This seems appropriate given that the new board members will be responsible for meeting the educational needs of the children of the entire district, not just those of their respective towns. This is not too large a leap — the boards of the middle school and the high school are already set up that way.
With respect to the dominance of Middlebury residents on the new board, state law requires a relationship between population and representation. However, certain protections have been built into the articles of agreement for the merger to protect the small towns. For example, the closure of any school would require public warnings and hearings and then the agreement of a supermajority of 10 out of the 13 board members.
There are many reasons we need to proceed with this process now rather than at some future time. Although Peter is right that there is no guarantee of long-term financial savings from consolidation, there is reason to hope that streamlined administration and economies of scale will make running our schools more efficient. In the short term, though, the state offers financial incentives for consolidation, which will result in school tax savings for every single town in the district. These incentives will go away or be reduced with each year that we delay the process.
Ultimately, under Act 46 the State Board of Education can impose consolidation on our district, without financial incentives. It is important for us to move ahead now, when we have control over the process and can maximize the benefits.
One final point: The articles of agreement are subject to modification by the voters if, in the future, we feel they are not working the way we expected them to. We need to put some trust in the many hours and months of study and work that our school representatives have put into crafting the best possible district consolidation plan for the ACSU. Please vote Yes.
Spence Putnam

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