Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: MAUSD board seeks input on facilities planning

Dear Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro Communities, 
For the last few years, the Mount Abraham Unified School District (MAUSD) School Board has been wrestling with the realities of declining enrollment and rapidly increasing health insurance costs. At the same time, we’ve seen the need to improve our educational outcomes and support for students socially, emotionally and physically regardless of their economic status, race, ethnicity, gender orientation, or ability. We are charged with doing this important work at a cost that the community deems acceptable, and we know that many members of our community are struggling financially, making even the smallest increase in taxes a burden.
It is not without a great deal of concern and anxiety that the MAUSD Board is undertaking conversations that include the possible closure of schools. I believe I can speak for all members when I say that especially at this uncertain moment in time, this is not something we want to be bringing to the community to consider. In addition, this is not a situation that we feel we have very much control over. We do not control enrollment trends, an aging population or rising fixed costs. 
In our community conversations last Fall, over 250 participants identified eight core education values which we believe are very similar to the values that emerged in the forums sponsored by the 5 Town Friends in 2015. The board’s Facilities Feasibility Committee is working hard to incorporate these values into our future planning along with financial and enrollment data. The board’s Community Engagement Committee is focused on bringing all of this information to the community — information about the factors impacting our long range planning — so we can seek community input on how best to move forward. We are creating a series of three video shorts to help articulate our district’s challenges, as well as sending out a mailer to all Five Town residents. At the end of October we will be surveying the community for input to help district leaders determine next steps.
None of this is easy, and in an ideal world we would have much more time, and we would be in a much less stressful moment in time, to make these decisions. We’ve known this eventuality was coming, and we’ve tried to prepare as best we can with cost-saving measures over the past few years. We have also worked to engage the community in conversations prior to having to make hard choices. Unfortunately, we are now at the time where we will face unsustainable tax increases if we do not act. It is a really tough spot to be in, and it is a very heavy responsibility placed on board members and our administration to figure out how to move forward.
I hope community members will continue to attend meetings, share input and encourage others to do so. We are working hard to sustain a sense of Five Town Community through this process, and we want to have as many voices at the table as possible. Hearing from our community really does help us make better decisions, thank you!
On behalf of the Mount Abraham Unified School Board 
Dawn Griswold, Chair
Monkton

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