Letter to the editor: ANeSU change as negatives

On Nov. 8, voters in the five towns of Addison northeast will face an unusual and important ballot item. No I am not talking about the presidential race which is indeed as unusual as it gets this year. I am talking about the school consolidation ballot that is brought to you by the ANeSU Act 46 Study Committee. This proposal represents a significant change in how we govern one of the most important community organizations in our towns, our schools.
In addition, voters will be handed a two-page ballot of important and complicated text. If voters don’t study the ballot in advance, they will face a significant challenge to truly evaluate the pros and cons of this two-page ballot item while standing in the ballot box.
I served on the Act 46 Study Committee over the last year. I worked hard to influence the direction of the committee. While I have a great deal of respect for every member of the committee and believe they are promoting what they believe will be best for our schools, I believe the proposal to consolidate our schools into one organization will do more harm than good.
If I was convinced that this proposal would save the taxpayer real monies or improve the quality of our schools, I would have been convinced to vote yes. Because I don’t believe there are significant positives, the negatives motivate me to vote no. If all five towns vote in favor of this consolidation, I believe:
• We will have less transparency and accountability;
• There will be less access to decision makers and it will be harder for community members to influence the direction of our schools;
• The office of the superintendent will have fewer opportunities to be accountable to our communities and have more centralized power;
• The important linkages between our great schools, and the communities in which they thrive will be diminished. Addison Northeast has seen tremendous improvement recently. I feel very positive about our new superintendent, and hopeful that our community is healing from the challenges of the recent past. But this proposed change in school governance will be in place for many years to come.
The support and trust in our current leadership should not influence our concern about how the proposed structure of school governance will play out over decades to come. Future leaders may be less collaborative and have less commitment to listen to the values and priorities of our communities. I am not making these arguments because I care about Lincoln more than any other town. I care about all the students in our district and our state.
Our schools are made better by maintaining strong linkages between the school and the communities in which they thrive. If we move the process for making decisions further away from the classroom and further from the community, how will the decisions change? My fear is that over time, we will diminish what makes our schools great, their individual character and creativity that are key to maintaining strong communities of learning.
It is more than a metaphor that the people of Starksboro, for instance, own their community school and have an interest and commitment to its future. While it is true that if this ballot item passes, we will by definition own all the schools in our five towns together, I fear that this will diminish our commitment, not strengthen it.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, the school unification proposal in front of us is bad for democracy. While some are looking for a cleaner chain of command and a more simplified way to govern our schools, the decision to dissolve the locally elected boards that govern our schools is a step in the wrong direction. Representative democracy is not designed to be efficient. It is designed to gain a broader set of inputs and engage more people in the decision making process.
We do have a choice. The decision to reject this proposal does not mean that the state will force us to do it anyway. It means that we will have to ask ourselves again, what is the best way to govern our schools, to gain efficiencies and improve communication and collaboration among our schools while preserving strong community commitment.
For more information on why we should vote “no” on Act 46 school district centralization on Nov. 8, please visit our website: https://sites.google.com/site/votenoonanesumerger/ . Keep our schools local. Vote no on the school consolidation question on Oct. 8.
Michael Fisher

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