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Opinion: Act 46 viewed as anti-local law

Act 46 of 2015, the school district consolidation law, is well crafted and well supported and is a big mistake. Many on boards and committees, at the local level, working on this, feel uneasy but believe their hand is forced. One of the successes of the bad law is this forcing, and very few, though often uneasy, vote against this change. Pushed from above, herded along, they are working at eliminating their work. They, and I, believe there are benefits to eliminating levels of government, and extra bureaucracy.
We have a state population of around 600,000 people. I suspect that about 500 know and understand the provisions and likely effects of this law.
But the intent of government, and the intent of education provided by government, is to produce benefits for as many of us as possible and it is not government in itself that needs to be bettered, and it’s not education in itself that needs to be bettered, it’s our society that needs to be bettered.
Does this bad law do that? I don’t think so. I think it does the opposite and I think its bad effect is largely un-discussed. Much of the problem is that this is seen as an education improvement law when it is actually a governmental change.
To say, as many have, that “the students come first,” is lacking in thought. It is society — for whom we educate ourselves and our students — that comes first. Of course we should aid our students, and we will be hurting them by this law.
The worst of its bad effects will be the largest of its effects. Which is not to increase educational opportunity — who could argue against this? — or to help, very slightly, to decrease the rate of tax increases to provide for education. Or, even to speed the way for the closing of small schools some few years hence to further help decrease tax increase rates. The law will do all these things. In the big scheme of how we govern ourselves for our own benefit they are small potatoes.
But the largest of its effects, mostly unexamined and un-discussed by its creators and its proponents, will be the worst: to eliminate hands-on and neighborly discussion and decision-making, a New England tradition admired and wondered at by a good deal of the world. By this it will increase, at a measured pace, disinterest and distrust in government, which will result in a further alienation from government and a further feeling of alienation from society.
Many Vermont towns, for example, still govern themselves with relatively successful town meetings at which their local school tax is determined. What happens to these meetings — which need to be strengthened not weakened, and they could be strengthened — when 75 percent of the tax monies needed for their work and the decision making process is taken away? The meeting will further atrophy of course. And affect not just school governance but the direct participation in governmental decision making that has been a New England small town right for all these years.
Our society, as a mature one, does not have the excitement of a rising sense of achievement but rather often has a sense of being lost. The loss of this long time right that Act 46 moves to ensure will increase both actual loss and the sense of loss. I think we are voting something we own out of existence with this bill, and without thinking.
For the last good number of years a loud voice has been raised for “local”; this law is the opposite of this. One cannot be a “localvore” and desire this law, the benefits of localness are undermined here. And it is not “school” or “education” that is being changed but government, and for the worst, in the wrong direction, in a direction that will hurt and, I predict, without much benefit to education.
I, myself, think it in its bad effects is unstoppable, but I grieve what will be lost with it.
It’s my belief that votes against consolidating school districts at this time will help our society a good deal more than votes in favor of this.
Robert Bernstein
Bristol

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