Letter to the editor: ANeSU unification to save schools, upgrade education

One of the many reasons we chose as a family to move to New Haven was the appeal of sending our kids to the very same school where their grandfather attended in the 1950s. There was a sense of stepping back in time to simpler days and holding on to important ideals — community, culture, tradition. Those ideals remain incredibly important, but the students who are attending schools in our communities have 21st century learning needs and problems that are increasingly more difficult to address by a single community.
Unification in our school district isn’t going to diminish these historical fixtures and centers of communities in which we gather for so much more than just the occasional sporting event or play. Voting “no,” however, has dire consequences that are already starting to play out in many of our small schools. Unifying in Addison Northeast (a “yes” vote for Act 46) still means I value the small school in my community, and I am not putting it at risk of closing.
The consolidated school board won’t have any authority to make that change. Closing a school under the new governance structure will still remain in the hands of the voters in our community. A vote “yes” in some communities does mean that school budgets will be voted for via Australian ballots. To some that might be considered undemocratic and a loss of local control and voter voice.
I would disagree, though — I’ve been at some of those town meetings and wondered about the voters who weren’t there, and therefore couldn’t vote because they themselves are dealing with 21st century problems — barely getting by with two jobs making minimum wage, and unable to afford childcare. Votes among the few who can afford to spend their Saturday at town meeting voting from the floor isn’t democratic. 
More importantly, the arguments against school unification completely mask the complex reasons why school unification is necessary. As a school administrator, I see these problems firsthand, every day — we cannot efficiently address the varied needs of the students we serve by continuing to operate independently.
While we all love the idea of sending our children to schools that look like the schools our parents attended, the truth is that education is very different than it was in the 1950s. We have fewer students in our schools, more complex needs and greater demands for equity. Simply put, in today’s reality of operating small schools in isolation, schools are having to make very difficult decisions like cutting key staff or doing without needed curricular materials just to put a budget before the voters that will be acceptable.
That’s not helping our students prepare for a 21st century world. I want my school to maintain cultural values and its unique sense of community, and by voting “yes” I have no doubt that the principal, teachers and those actively involved will ensure that continues.  I want more people participating in the democratic process of voting for their school’s budget, and voting “yes” will ensure that all who wish to participate still can.
I want more efficiencies in how our schools operate and are governed, and a vote “yes” means that these won’t be delayed any more than they already have been, and school leaders and staff can get on with the business of the instruction to prepare our 21st century learners. For all of these reasons, I encourage voters to support Act 46 on Nov. 8 and vote yes.
Susan Bruhl
New Haven

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