Letter to the editor: Former education secretary, ANeSU head backs merger

An exciting opportunity is approaching this November for the communities of Bristol, Lincoln, New Haven, Monkton and Starksboro. The upcoming Addison Northeast Supervisory Union District Act 46 merger vote provides an opportunity for the communities to design a better system for the education of their children. The ANESU Act 46 study committee has been working hard for over a year in open meeting formats preparing to address the legal requirements of Act 46 and do what is best for all students.
I recently served as the interim superintendent of the ANESU and was the former Secretary of Education for the state of Vermont as well as a longtime educator. I have had the privilege of visiting many of the school districts in the state and have seen the challenges they face in trying to provide the best educational experiences for students in a very cumbersome and awkward school management structure. I am also aware of the statewide challenges caused by a decade-long decline in our student population and the increased costs of our per-pupil education. I am very supportive of Act 46 as a step in helping make our schools more equitable, cost and resource effective, and ultimately better for students. The ANESU district faces these same challenges and has experienced declining enrollment for many years, which makes it harder and more expensive to maintain equitable opportunities for all students in each of the member districts.
The goal of Act 46 is to bring a more equitable educational experience to all children regardless of where they attend school. The proposal being presented for a vote on Nov. 8 addresses this goal. Currently the ANESU is comprised of seven school boards with 34 board members serving approximately 1,400 students. Each one of the school districts operates as a separate entity with many business and administrative services being provided by the supervisory union office. However, a vast amount of administrative time is spent preparing and following up on board meetings, which has a detrimental impact on administrators being able to support schools to improve education for children. Along with that, the amount of time that is spent preparing and managing 7 budgets and having the superintendent attend over 120 meetings a year leaves little time for supervising and supporting principals in leading their schools. The current structure also makes it difficult to work cooperatively to provide a consistent, cost effective educational experience for all students. This is particularly important since all of the schools feed into Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School in the 7th grade.
There is a minority opinion about designing an alternative governing structure in meeting the legal requirements set forth by the state board of education. In my opinion this idea is not an option for the ANESU. Assuming that the Agency of Education will accept this alternative model is a risky proposition based on their recent decision denying Windham Southwest SU their proposal for an alternative model. If there is a thought that waiting for a change in the governor’s office will lead to a repeal of Act 46, it may be wishful thinking. If the district does not have an approved model by 2018 the state board of education will determine the future of the ANESU.
The proposed vote of having one school board made up of representatives from the five communities, one budget, one set of operational policies, with one set of curricular expectations for all will help ensure that all students are exposed to consistent approaches to teaching and learning in a more effective system. I strongly urge you to support this important vote. The communities of the five towns can work more effectively and efficiently together with the main focus being on what is best for children.
Armando Vilaseca

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