Op/Ed

Editorial: A collaborative approach serves school districts best

The lesson to be learned from the upcoming votes within the Addison Northwest School District to close the elementary schools in Addison and Ferrisburgh is plain: When a district school board moves too fast toward consolidating town schools, the blowback can be harsh and detrimental to long-term solidarity.
A week before the Nov. 5 vote, residents in Addison have mounted an all-out campaign to defeat the proposed closing, and in Ferrisburgh the town selectboard is sending out a letter to all residents urging citizens to vote down the school district’s plan. Both are extraordinary signs of discontent with the school district’s proposal.
The reason for the discontent isn’t just opposition to closing the schools, but also the lack of information that would prove the savings the school district claims.
In a letter send out to residents, the Ferrisburgh selectboard pointed out the dubious savings claimed by the district: “We have not been provided with multi-year operating budgets associated with the different scenarios examined by the Addison Northwest School District, so we have no factual basis to know which scenario is best,” the board wrote, adding that “as a result of our research, we cannot guarantee that closing FCS and assuming ownership of the school will save Ferrisburgh taxpayers ANY money. If we accept the District’s assertion that closing the two schools will save taxpayers 2 cents on the education tax rate, then the increase in the Ferrisburgh town tax rate…will more than offset the school tax decrease, and your taxes will go up anyway.”
It is also easy for the school board to incite fears of rising tax rates, even when the cause of those rising rates have as much to do with rising costs at the middle and high school as with the elementary schools. No doubt money can be saved by consolidating schools and cutting teachers, staff and administrators. But such plans ought to be spelled out in detail, so residents know exactly what to expect before taking the drastic step of closing a school; and a majority of community members of each town ought to be convinced of the value of consolidation before having it forced upon them.
The school district may have the authority to disregard the majority of any given town, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right move to take.
Rather, the Ferrisburgh selectboard was right on target when it wrote in its letter to town residents (being sent on Oct. 31): “What the (school) district is proposing is more than school planning; it is community and regional planning… Only a collaborative approach will help us turn the current crisis into an opportunity to better serve our students and our communities.”
Seeking that collaborative approach serves the best interests of area school districts. In the end, all towns will have to work ever more closely to create strong schools. The district school boards, with the help of Act 46, are correct to put pressure on small towns to react with new ideas if they want to keep their local schools, but creating distrust and animosity now, before the hard work is begun, is a step in the wrong direction.
Angelo Lynn

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