Letter to the editor: Small schools shouldn’t be condemned to closure
Last week’s op-ed, “ACSD must change, or face woeful cuts,” raises some important points. Yes, the district is at the excess spending threshold the state has mandated. For every dollar above the EST, we will be double-taxed. What’s missing in this op-ed, however, is the analysis behind why we are at the threshold. What’s the biggest budget increase we have faced in recent years? It is not the cost of facilities or increase in salaries. It is healthcare. The cost of healthcare is skyrocketing 10-15% in annual increases but the excess spending threshold is only increasing by 2-2.5%. Clearly, this isn’t sustainable for ACSD or any other district in our state for that matter.
Moreover, there’s a misconception that after closing four elementary schools (Cornwall, Ripton, Shoreham and Weybridge) we will not have to make “woeful cuts.” This just isn’t true. Based on the ASCD Board’s own three-school proposal, closing schools will cut more than just the staff in those schools being shuttered; the Three School Model is going to cut 30% of Mary Hogan’s current teachers and staff while packing the school with 33% more K-5 students. Is everyone prepared for that?
The board’s plan calls to reduce the number of Mary Hogan K-5 paraeducators from 38 to just 8-10 in spite of adding 120 students to those grades. If you’re frustrated with class size and lack of resources now, it’s going to be worse after closing schools, not better. Replacing those 28-30 paras with just four specialists (two SLPs and two behavioral interventionists) all the while adding one-third more students, is going to stretch everyone’s ability to meet our students’ growing needs. The proposed changes at the elementary school level also mirror what’s happening at the middle school level. The people at a Middlebury Porch Conversation last month and the MUMS petition presented to the board last March both expressed disenchantment with that process. I would argue that it is the rigid manner in which the ACSD Board is functioning that is driving people away from the district, not the people who are advocating for keeping their schools open.
The rising healthcare costs and the excess spending threshold is a state issue that is affecting districts throughout Vermont, but we are being repeatedly asked to find a solution at the local level. We need to push back and evolve together, not just sacrifice our own schools in the name of unproven learning outcomes that, actually, may not reap any financial results due our position in the state education funding model.
I’m not willing to stand back and let my daughters’ elementary school — that is well maintained, safe and structurally-sound, loved by the community, environmentally forward-thinking, filled with teachers we celebrate and rally behind, that has just as many students as it ever did — be closed without a town vote or a voice in the process as the people with all the power claim to be our saviors. I would, however, welcome the opportunity “to create an elementary school model with intention.”
The shift to International Baccalaureate has offered more partnership between schools and educators than ever before, we are sharing virtual resources like pros, and, thanks to our fluency with that virtual collaboration, we can bring team members together with ease. That’s a lot to celebrate! I would urge you to consider how more of that type of growth does not have to come at the price of underserving our youngest and most vulnerable.
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