Letter to the editor: Unification hasn’t helped school

As a parent of three children under the age of eight, I have many years ahead of me in the public-school system, and consider myself fortunate to be able to send my kids to the same small community school that I went to at their age. As an Addison resident my whole life, community is of the utmost importance to me, and in such a rural town, our school is the center of that community. There’s nothing better in my opinion than watching my kids walk into school each day, knowing their needs will be met by people I know on a first-name basis and trust explicitly.
Addison Central School has always operated as the smallest and most frugal of the four schools in our district, frankly because we have had no choice. We have made hard decisions, choosing between such needs as new roofs and heating systems or music and art programs. There have been periods when we have gone without the “extras” in order to make our building energy efficient and to pay off outstanding debts. We have been successful and now boast a 5-star energy rated building, with no outstanding bonds to be paid. However, because of our size and location, it has always seemed that we are left at a deficit compared to the other schools in the district. We are not strangers to sacrifice.
When Unification became the topic of conversation two years ago, there was a promise of equity for all students in the district. Addison Central School hoped this would be an opportunity to grow in some areas—and hopefully to see a rest period in the “cutting and slashing” that often leaves us feeling at a disadvantage in our district. We’re now coming to the close of our first year of implementing these unified concepts and are swiftly approaching a budget vote for the upcoming year. I am deeply saddened and shocked at the proposal for ACS.
While the discussion of closing our school has been eluded to for years, the superintendent has clarified that this is not a consideration for at least two more years. However, the upcoming budget cuts in regard to personnel undoubtedly have us headed in that direction—setting us on a downward spiral. We’ll be losing yet another grade teacher, which will bring us to three combined classrooms and four teachers total. Our principal will be dropped by 20 percent (we’ve historically operated with part-time principals, which has proven to create instability in the position and a high turnover rate), and our secretary (who doubles as a nurse and guidance counselor and has been with us for 13 years) will also be dropped 20 percent. Our PE teacher will be taken to VUES and replaced with a shared individual close to retirement, and there are similar support-position cuts that are currently being rumored.
Again, we are not strangers to sacrifice. Our kids are playing on a playground that hasn’t been upgraded since I went to school there, we’re asking for volunteers to help serve lunch to support the one part-time kitchen employee, we have no sports administration, fusion program or theater curriculum. But what we do have is an amazingly devoted and passionate group of teachers and staff who care very deeply for our children and have since as long as I can remember. There is a heart and a connection at ACS that you won’t find at other schools, and it feels like you’re taking all that we have left.
I haven’t seen any of the promises of Unification come to fruition. As a business owner myself, I understand financial realities, but cutting people’s salaries and laying people off ought to be a last resort when evening out a budget. I don’t claim to have all of the answers, or even understand all the nuances of education politics, but I can tell that Unification is doing nothing for our school.
At the most recent budget meeting, one of many questions asked of the superintendent and business manager was how much the Central Office pays in rent to use the Kennedy Brothers space; neither of them knew the answer. Even more concerning, neither of them seemed to think that was a problem. All we’re asking for is some surety that the numbers have been thoroughly looked through and that every possible means has been taken to avoid the destructive scenario we’ve been presented. And we’d like specifics. We’d like to see a proper balance of transparency between the administration and board, and accountability for these types of decisions. 
We’ve lost ownership of our building, transparency in our board, and accountability in our administration.  We are resourceful, reasonable people, and at the end of the day, if we are provided with accurate, clear information, we can seek effective answers and actions.
I will be voting NO on the upcoming budget vote on Tuesday, as I cannot in good faith vote for something I feel to be dishonest and at the detriment of ACS families and urge my fellow residents to place their vote from a place of enlightenment and courage for what they believe is right.
Caetlin Harwood

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