Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Transparency a part of ACSD debate

As always I want to thank those serving on the Addison Central School District board for the time and energy they put into the work. It is no small task and it is appreciated.
The following quote is from “A Matter of Public Record, A Guide to Vermont’s Public Records Laws” by James Condos, Secretary of State. “Officers of government are trustees and servants of the people and it is in the public interest to enable any person to review and criticize their decisions even though such examination may cause inconvenience or embarrassment.”
As someone who attends most board meetings and quite a few committee meetings, I am appreciative of the efforts made and also have concerns about transparency. The two are not mutually exclusive. It is my hope that calls for transparency not be interpreted as personal attacks or allegations of nefarious activity. After the extensive discussion around the public records request we still do not have clarity around who exactly determined the four-school models the transportation consultant evaluated or how that determination was made. We do know the transportation consultant was given the specific models to study. If we’re hiring an expert of transportation who has access to databases and modeling software — wouldn’t they be the ones to determine the models to further analyze? It seems to fall squarely under their area of expertise and is presumably why they were hired in the first place.
The most concerning aspect of the public records request for me was the evaluation done in September 2020 by TruexCullins on a new two-section-per-grade elementary school. I was at an earlier meeting when the board agreed unanimously that models which included new construction would not be considered. I have not heard any discussion at any public meeting of that stance being reconsidered.
The only reference to a new two-section-per-grade elementary school was in option 2A as presented by TruexCullins, which included Mary Hogan as a four-section-per-grade elementary school and a new two-section-per-grade elementary school. In this model, all six small elementary schools would be closed. While there may be a perfectly rational explanation for the evaluation of this model it is fair to say that the process that led to that point does not meet the definition of transparency. Is the ultimate goal to close six schools and we are now in phase one of that plan? I certainly hope that is not the case but without the context of public discussion around this specific evaluation, it appears to be a distinct possibility.
This is a complicated process with a lot of moving parts and no easy answers. It’s been said that the overwhelming passing of the budget is an indication of the trust the community has in the board. It’s fair to say then that the community spoke clearly with the passing of the budget that they support our district and all of the schools encompassed within the district, including all seven elementary schools.
Our incoming kindergarten class sizes have stabilized for a full decade. The only declining enrollment to speak of is the last two of the larger high school classes that are graduating in the next few years. Our elementary school population is not declining, and has not been for 10 years. It is imperative that the Facilities Master Plan look at the district holistically before making significant changes. Yet the board was on the cusp of voting to close elementary schools before we even analyze costs at the high school. It is true that the high school serves students district-wide but it is also true that in a few years will be serving half as many students as it did 10 years ago.
The research shows that consolidation almost always leads to increased spending on transportation, reduced spending on education, and rarely yields actual savings to the taxpayer. The research shows that students, especially those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, benefit from local schools and smaller class sizes. Perhaps it is not feasible to keep all seven elementary schools open — but shouldn’t the conversation be “How many schools can we keep open” instead of “How many schools can we close?” Our schools are amazing and each has their strengths and challenges but all are an integral part of the ACSD community.
Tanya Scuteri
Shoreham

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