Letter to the editor: Respect ANWSD board; the financial pressure is real

Dear Friends and Neighbors in the Addison Northwest School District:
In recent months I have had many private conversations with people in our district about the future of our schools, yet I have chosen not to speak publicly about the subject. I am involved with several volunteer organizations in our community, and I did not want any public comments I might make to be construed as the opinions of those organizations or to impact how I interact with individuals in those settings. I was wrong not to speak up.
I want to apologize publicly to our school board. While I do not always agree with everything they do or say, I respect the hard work, dedication, and commitment of our school board members. I feel they have been sorely abused by some in our community, some who have been absent from the process of school governance until quite recently and do not seem to understand the fiscal realities of our region or the many burdens placed on our school system. I wish I had spoken up sooner and encourage others to do so. To be very clear, I write today on behalf of myself and my family. I write as a parent and a taxpayer in Vergennes. My opinions are my own and do not represent those of organizations with which I work. And after I express these opinions publicly, I will return to my volunteer endeavors with the same dedication and enthusiasm, hoping my words will serve to connect me to my ANWSD friends and neighbors, not divide me from them.
I wish the current realities of life in Vermont would allow us to keep all our district’s schools open. I wish that were fiscally responsible for our residents and equitable for all our students. It is neither. The population of our area has been declining for years and is projected to continue to do so for years. Health care costs, fuel costs, and special education costs are rising, and the problems of an aging infrastructure must be addressed. In order to attract and retain quality staff, we must offer competitive wages. These are issues that cannot be solved quickly or likely locally, regionally, or even on a statewide basis in the very near future. We are at a crossroads in our educational system. We must decide if the way forward is one of anger, division, and trying to protect only that which impacts us individually or if our path will be a unified effort to bring the most benefit to the most students in a way that respects the economic realities of all our taxpayers.
I believe the ANWSD’s current proposal, to repurpose the Addison Central School for use as an educational facility for children with special educational needs, is the right choice for our district. Not only does this proposal have the potential to save our district money, it enables us to keep our kids in and connected with their community. It enables us to provide more and better services to kids who need them while ensuring that all classrooms are safe and that learning is disrupted far less often.
I know that this choice has been loudly opposed by a cross section of our community. Many who oppose school closures are people I know. People whose children I care about greatly. And while I respect their right to have and voice their own opinions, I have been very saddened by, not only the angry rhetoric I have frequently read and heard, but by the seeming lack of consideration for our district as a whole. The majority of our voters simply cannot afford for taxes to keep rising at their current rate. We cannot. It’s not because we don’t care about education. It’s not because we don’t prioritize the children of this community. It is because we cannot afford it. It’s that simple.
Some have said we should keep the schools open as they are and just make deep cuts to our programming and administration to make that happen. While any budget process should include a review that helps pare down where responsible to do so, gutting our programming and administration serves no child’s best interests, nor, in the long run, will it help our communities reverse the trend of population decline.
Let us, instead, look upon this change as an opportunity. We have a unique and amazing chance in front of us to be stronger together. If, come September, Addison students are stepping through the doors of Vergennes Union Elementary School, I know the welcome wagon will be ready. And if, in a couple of years, students from Ferrisburgh are joining them, the wagon will be ready that day, too. Let’s put our time, energy, and money into making education great for all our kids.
Please, fellow ANWSD residents, let’s come together literally and figuratively to give our students an education we can afford that prepares them for a bright future.
Alexandria S. McGuire

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