Letter to the editor: Unified ANeSU would improve local control, education

As a member of the ANESU Act 46 Study Committee I have spent the last year carefully considering the pros and cons of school unification. For me there are three simple reasons to support the school unification proposal put forth by the committee: School unification will increase local control and accountability by allowing the school board and tax payers to vote on the ‘central office’ spending; it will simplify our governance model allowing greater focus on educational outcomes; and it will make our schools less sensitive to population changes.
School district unification will restore local control of the centralized part of the school budget. Under the current supervisory union, the special education, transportation, food services and information technology expenses have been centralized in the Supervisory Union (SU) budget.
For fiscal year 2016 this SU budget was over 7 million dollars or over 2.5 times what the total Monkton Central School budget was and yet neither the voters nor the local school boards had a direct say in that budget. The SU budget is developed by the supervisory union staff with oversight from the SU board, made up of members of the various school boards. The expenses associated with that budget are then allocated to the elementary school budgets and the Mt. Abe budget to be voted on by the individual towns.
School district unification provides a simpler model. All educational expenses are under the control of the unified school board, which develops a single budget that is voted on by the voters of the entire school district. This provides for both more local control and more accountability. Moving away from the model of a school board for each school building and moving to one unified school board also allows for greater focus on educational outcomes.
In our current structure there are as many as 24 nights a month of meetings, many dealing with the same subjects in different towns, with the result that the Superintendent and staff cannot focus on education but rather on preparation for, and follow up to, various meetings. Compounding this is a confusing and conflicting management structure.
Again school district unification provides a simpler model and more local control. By having one unified school board manage the Superintendent, who is responsible for educational content and continuity of the educational experience from elementary school to middle school and beyond, we create an infrastructure that focuses on learning, professional development and communication.
One unified school board will provide greater clarity related to expected outcomes and metrics and accountability district-wide. In addition, since the unified school board also manages the Superintendent, there is also more local control of the educational content and continuity of the educational experience from elementary school to middle school.
Finally by pooling our resources throughout the five towns we can stabilize our property taxes by spreading our costs over a greater number of students. We already do this with the special education resources, which have resulted in less variation to school budgets due to changes in special ed enrollment. The same argument applies to the general student population.
The arrival or departure of a family with three school-age children will have a much smaller impact on a school district budget set for 1500 students than it does on the budget of a single school expecting 140 students that year.
Instead of focusing on budget surpluses and deficits created by shifting demographics we can focus on where the educational dollar is going and how it can be used most efficiently.
Stephen Pilcher
North Ferrisburgh

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