Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: MAUSD plan to repurpose Robinson School panned

I am writing as a citizen and former Robinson School Board member to express my concern about the school reconfiguration proposal recently floated by Superintendent Reen. I know that much study and deliberation has gone into the reconfiguration concept that Patrick put forth. Without a doubt the financial challenges we face are severe given the decline in school population across the district and the state, and the punitive cost-control measures that the legislature has created make things even worse. I also realize that this is meant to be a starting point and trigger for discussion.
In that spirit …
As a number of others have noted, the repurposing of the Starksboro, Lincoln and New Haven school buildings into Innovation Centers and a new district office would in effect equal the closing of those schools. Some have implied this is an attempt to intentionally deprive voters of their say in the matter. While I don’t see any ill intent, that would be the net result of this proposed reconfiguration. Quite a few voters were persuaded to vote for the consolidation of districts in 2016 by the provision in the Articles of Association that “no school shall be closed without the host town voting to close their school.” Let’s honor that commitment.
How would this move save us money, and how much would it really save? We learned at the last board meeting that whether we close schools or not, we will need drastic staff reductions to avoid being penalized by the state. Even if the three schools in question were closed outright, the savings would be relatively small compared to the anticipated staffing cuts. Why are we contemplating such a drastic action, when the savings from this action would be so small?
As has been said many times before, our local elementary schools are the beating hearts of our communities. A fellow Principal Search Committee member said of Robinson school many years ago, “this is a place where magic happens.” Not only the magic of young minds learning, but also the magic of parents and volunteers helping educators create nurturing environments. Our community schools introduce our youngest learners to public education and invite parents and non-parent volunteers to contribute. Closing schools will make for more bus time and driving for students and their parents and create a further disincentive for young families looking to settle in our towns. Our communities will suffer as a result.
So how can we solve this riddle? Can we undertake the needed staffing cuts to get closer to the staff to student ratio that we need to curb costs while keeping our village schools in the business of educating each community’s children? Can we find additional uses for our village school buildings? Perhaps the expanded pre-school education that our legislature is considering could be accommodated or the district admin staff could move into one of the elementary schools with extra space. No doubt there are other compatible uses that we can think of. Let’s be as deliberate and creative  as we can while we sort out our options for the future of our schools, which are so closely tied to the future of our communities.
Louis duPont
Starksboro
 

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