Opinion: Orwell residents should vote ‘no’ on Act 46 referendum

Vote no to Act 46 school consolidation of Orwell, Benson, West Haven, Fair Haven, Castleton and Hubbardton school districts.
We appreciate the hard work of the Act 46 Study Committee, but think there are many improvements that can be made to the Articles of Agreement presented for this vote. A no vote will give a chance to make improvements to the articles.
Act 46, an attempt by the Legislature and the bureaucrats in Montpelier to improve and reduce the cost of education in Vermont, may not do either. Orwell is already almost the lowest spending town in Vermont and is achieving excellent education in Orwell Village School as evidenced by high test scores and the quality of students graduating. And we are doing it locally.
The new school board will have 18 members, way too big for efficient operation, of which Orwell will only have two members. Thus, the wishes of Orwell parents may be squashed by board members from other towns. The direction of our local school will be in the hands of others.
It’s true that we have lost a lot of local control already. But the remaining control we do have is very important.  That includes the final decisions on hiring teachers, support staff and selecting and determining how much the principal is paid, school policies, building maintenance, what color to paint the front door, and much more.
This year Orwell School had a ski program, townsfolk raised the $12,000 needed and the school provided the busing and arrangements. Nearly the whole school went skiing on six Fridays, more than half for the first time in their lives. Will this educational spontaneity and outdoor learning opportunity be available in a consolidated district?
It’s hard to see how individual schools will be able to exert their own initiatives while a distant school board and bureaucrats are saying no. This consolidation gives the new board complete and absolute authority over all details of operating the new school system. Citizens are left out. We will not have a local school board to seek out the best interests of Orwell, to hear citizens’ comments and suggestions, act on our local interests. 
The new board will have the power to move school attendance boundary lines and school configurations, to move teachers, staff and principals to other schools further removing local input and control.
We will not have an annual Orwell town school meeting in which to voice our thoughts. Not able vote on the Orwell school budget because there won’t be any Orwell Village School budget.
Many of the reasons claimed by Act 46 have already been accomplished in our supervisory union, such as consolidating busing, food service, special education, teachers’ contracts and pay scales and benefits, support staff, professional development, and curriculum. We can continue to improve on more educational opportunities without consolidation.
And to make matters worse, the bureaucrats have determined that consolidation will not reduce school costs. So why do it?
Vote no on Tuesday April 12.
Voting no will not cost Orwell, or other towns’, taxpayers anything. There is no hurry, no tax penalty or other costs, if we vote no, as we should, to reconsider the Articles of Agreement to get a much better deal for local schools.
Voting no will give Orwell citizens a chance to either stay as an independent school or rewrite a new set of Articles of Agreement to better protect our Orwell Village School.
Paul A. Stone

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