Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: ACSD has much to prove before it can close schools

I write to express several concerns with the school consolidation decision brought by the ACSD School Board. We have a new home in Cornwall and I am hoping my almost-five-year-old will start kindergarten at the Cornwall school this September. His nearly-three-year-old sister was to follow. In fact, I specifically bought our house in Cornwall in order to take advantage of the Bingham Memorial School for my young children. 
I have been loosely following the school consolidation issue for the past eight months, and now all of a sudden, amidst the COVID-19 curtain of social distancing, the school board, which has a majority representation of Middlebury and not the surrounding towns which help to flesh out the community of Addison County, wants to rush the proposed decision to close the Cornwall School, in a few months, before even working out how the quality of education and the quality of the school experience is going to be sustained?  
The first outside consultants chosen by the board are those to comment on the facilities plan? So that the educational experience of the redistricted elementary students for the first, what, six to ten years? is a sacrifice they have to bear? Since it seems highly unlikely that the high quality of the education given at a few of the schools (those same ones that are proposed to be eliminated), can be replicated in a jiffy at the new, expanded school centers. 
And how to get to these new schools? The suggestion that the Salisbury School, the recommended school to send displaced Cornwall elementary students, is a mere “six additional minutes away,” sounds preposterous. Small children should not be asked to travel significantly more time on a bus, nor their working parents be compelled to take them to school during rush hour traffic. At the very least, reviewing district lines should be an important component so as to lessen the actual travel time of affected children, not exponentially increase it. 
It goes without saying that the decision-makers are not going to personally be feeling any of these huge losses that the communities are communicating. “Cut first, and plan later,” seems to be the plan. Move the 6th grade to the Middlebury center, thus bolstering the board argument that community schools don’t have enough students to keep them “viable.” 
The community schools are educationally and socially viable.  Where are the plans being proffered or considered by the school board to make the whole ACSD system, including the community school jewels, financially viable? Why has the board presented only a consolidation — read: elimination — “solution”? And no, presenting a three-school or a four-school survivor model of schools does not count. 
People who have been attending and following every single board meeting report that the school board has virtually refused to consider any other possibility than closing schools as a first step. How quickly was a Cornwall-Weybridge combination shut down? I’m sure there are many creative, viable solutions among us that deserve exploring.
I have started to read research conducted following school consolidations, which questions claims of substantial improvements in “fiscal efficiencies, taxpayer savings, and curricular improvements.” In this climate-change and COVID-challenging time it seems ironic that the one “solution” launched is to increase transportation headaches, travel time, gas usage, and the opposite of spreading out and distancing, by adding students into existing spaces. Why are we undervaluing or not even calculating the importance of vital educational complements, such as extracurricular participation, parental involvement and community support? 
Since there does not seem to be even a pretense of achieving higher or equivalent curricular quality at the new configuration, where are the transparent budget numbers demonstrating the sustainable, fiscal benefits? 
I look forward to seeing them.
Elizabeth Toder
Cornwall

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