Education Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: H.493 means more Ed Board power, less local voice

My reading of State Board of Education Chair Oliver Olsen’s expansive essay (“Vt. law limits Ripton options,” Letters, Feb. 3) is that he is correct when he explains that it is not the State Board of Education that is targeting schools for closure. It is actually Act 46, the law under which the State Board is making its decisions, that has targeted small schools for consolidation — by force, if necessary. In my opinion, Act 46 was intended specifically to bring about the closing of small towns’ schools in Vermont, despite what the text of the law itself states. Under this law, once a small school has been consolidated, the way is then open for that town’s school to be closed, as is being attempted with Ripton.

The chairman writes that, “the question of whether the Ripton (or any other) school should close or stay open was simply not relevant to the process before us.” But, of course, that was precisely the question, and it still is.

The situation in which the State Board finds itself is that since a small town has escaped having its school closed under Act 46, then an arrangement must be made for that school to fail in order to preserve the intent of Act 46 and the power of the State Board of Education. And all along, the assumption underlying this process is that the State Board has the well-being and the education of the Ripton children as their primary concern. This has also been the primary concern of the people of Ripton who want their children and their school to thrive.

The state continues its efforts, now through even more destructive legislation in the form of a bill presently being considered in the House Education Committee, bill H.493. This bill will make the process of a town withdrawal from a union school district so arcane and byzantine as to be essentially impossible. It greatly strengthens Act 46, and provides that the ultimate arbiter of a town withdrawal will be the Vermont Board of Education. If this bill passes into law, the future hope of small towns to save their schools from closure will be virtually nil. Somewhere in these current and proposed statutes is the loss of the more direct democratic voice that has been the essence of Vermont government.

Millard Cox

Ripton

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