Opinion: ACSU unification process rushed, undemocratic
In spite of many gung-ho statements by those involved in the process, I view the move to consolidation of our school district, Addison Central Supervisory Union, as a real decline in democracy. While none of the towns were interested in forming a “regional educational district” just a few years ago, we now have an essentially forced merger being put into effect. The significant monetary incentives push us to make it happen immediately with little opportunity for reflection.
I was shocked, when attending an informational meeting in my town, to hear that there would be a vote this spring. The district committee had not even completed their proposal. Initially each town was to elect its representative(s) to the new consolidated board, but the state rejected that plan since Middlebury — the most populous town — did not have proportional representation. This seemed odd to me, as Vermont is similarly represented compared to other states in the U.S. Congress. However, the proposal was re-submitted so that all towns in the district would elect all of the representatives from the seven communities.
I thought, “Well, they better set up lots of public forums in all the towns so people will have an idea of who they are voting for. How am I supposed to be aware of the educational views of people I have never met or even heard of?” Nothing like that ever transpired; just glossy brochures about how wonderful things will be and yard signs promoting unification.
Then I saw the reason: Of the 13 positions representing all seven towns to oversee the education of our students, only two races are contested — one in my town of Ripton, one in Bridport. Even here, there have been no candidate forums, letters or other communications as to these three candidates’ views. If that hasn’t even been presented to this small, local community, how does the wider population have the information needed to cast their votes?
One might say that elections to local school boards are frequently uncontested, but at least locally one can fairly easily keep track of positions, discussions, policies, etc. How easy will that be with this new board? Further, if people in one community feel they are NOT well represented, how do they project their voice when they do not even have any say over who is on the board from their community?
I believe that the Legislature did a great disservice to our citizens by putting so many financial incentives into place to push communities to accomplish consolidation this year. I want to know who I am voting for. It is not merely a question of whether they will support my town and my town’s school. All over this country there have been situations where school board members wreaked havoc with community values, educational goals and even civil rights.
When we lose the opportunity not only for choice but even for information, we put our whole system of democracy in jeopardy. Maybe it is time to value that more than we value money. Maybe we need to leave some of those financial incentives on the table and take the time to do this thing properly, if we have to do it eventually. Maybe we need to vote “No” now, until a system is in place that will allow us to know what and who we are voting for.
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