Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Editorial unfair to school board

Another year, another inflammatory editorial from the Addison Independent. In the Jan. 16 edition, Angelo Lynn accuses the Addison Northwest School District (ANSWD) board of violating “every tenet of the democratic process.” How, you might ask did these board members (who Lynn has previously accused of “acting like kings”) act in such an anti-democratic fashion? By responding to a group of citizens who, in objection to the board’s preferred policy, decided to challenge the authority of the board itself.
As the spouse of an ANWSD board member, an educator and a parent of two children at Vergennes Union Elementary School, I am tired of the name calling instead of problem solving. The decision facing ANWSD — to manage rising costs and declining school enrollments by choosing among a series of unattractive options — is incredibly difficult. Our local paper could choose to inform the public, and I look forward to the promised article by Christopher Ross on school budgets. But instead of serving a useful public function by unpacking a complex problem, editor Lynn has chosen to oversimplify the question and repeatedly vilify the board.
You might not like what the board is doing — and it is both your right and responsibility to tell them so. But here are the facts about the democratic nature of the board:
1.  76% of the district’s voters voted in favor of the existing articles of incorporation in the March 2016 vote.
2.  The ANSWD board members were elected by voters from the five towns. I do not know of any 12 members who faced any opposition in running for a time-consuming and thankless position.
3.  Every budget that the board proposes must be put to the voters. Rather than being “shut out of the democratic process,” the voters have the final say.
4.  Lynn chastises the board failing to take seriously their constituents. Please recall that these constituents, the voters of the five towns of the ANWSD, have historically rejected budget increases. As the Independent reported, the March 2019 budget passed by just seven votes, reflected a community divided over higher taxes versus school funding.
5.  Only two of five towns held votes in November over whether two elementary schools should be closed. The views of half the voters in the school district — from Vergennes, Waltham and Panton — have not been considered.
On Monday, the board decided to set aside the issue of the decision-making authority of the board, a debate that will distract from the most pressing issue — a budget that citizens will vote on in a few weeks. The board’s stated goals are improving the educational experience for students while containing costs. Instead of talking about these goals, the state-wide challenges of declining enrollments, and the difficult decisions ahead, Lynn uses the paper of record in Addison County to make sweeping calls for direct democracy — with no evidence that policy-by-referendum will produce better results (see: Brexit).
I do not know what the next few weeks hold, but I implore fellow ANWSD residents to reject Lynn’s example and instead work on the tough questions — limited support for school budgets, declining enrollments, and the core requirements for an excellent education in Addison Northwest.
Sarah Stroup
Vergennes resident and VUES parent

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