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Opinion: ACSU governance change will be smooth transition

We are in the midst of significant political movement in our state as towns continue to deliberate around school funding and school board configuration. In an attempt to follow through with campaign promises about controlling school spending and reducing property taxes, last spring the Legislature passed a rather messy and confusing Act 46.
Board members from our Addison Central Supervisory Union towns quickly established a Charter Committee and set to work drafting Articles of Agreement that met the criteria of the new law while abiding by existing law as well (a feat that was harder than one might think). I believe there were many aspects of this “accelerated merger” process that were flawed, not the least of which was the timeline we were given in which to accomplish this work, review it with local residents, and put it to a vote.
While I sympathize with many ACSU residents who are resistant to and embittered by the “heavy hand” being placed on us to unify our boards quickly so as to take advantage of incentives and prevent the loss of significant state revenue, I also find myself confident that this board unification will not mean the loss of local control nor the quick and imminent closure of small schools. One board, I believe, will allow for the efficient and collaborative management of six elementary, one middle and one high school based largely on the recommendations of a competent superintendent and dedicated team of administrators whose expertise is in making decisions about what’s best for students.
Aside from an adjustment in our tax rate over the next five or so years, I believe few people will even notice the change in school governance, and our schools will continue to operate as they have, providing meaningful, high-quality educational experiences for students in pre-K through 12th grade. If I believed this move towards school board unification was a one-way ticket to closing our school here in Ripton, I would absolutely oppose it and encourage everyone else to as well.
We, as part of the pro-small schools movement, need to continue to engage with our local politicians and board members (and principals and superintendent) to ensure that one budget does not mean one bottom line regardless of potential impact to students and families. I also believe that anyone who says small schools automatically mean less access to meaningful opportunities and experiences for kids needs to face tough opposition in the polls; we have the collective power to vote for Vermonters who understand the value of letting the parents, teachers and administrators decide what is best for our kids and that it’s OK to spend money on education.
ACSU is a supervisory union with a long history of supporting its schools and students. Voting to merge school boards into one unified board will not change that. Electing 13 instead of five board members who share these values will not change that. Change is hard, but we have the power to make great change.
I look forward to working together, as part of the Addison Central School District, to ensure that whatever happens, it is what’s best for all students now and for the years to come.
Tracey Harrington
Principal
Ripton Elementary School

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