Education Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: New rules bad for rural schools

Hello fellow Vermonters,

I’ve just heard that members of the House Education Committee are trying to sneak anti-small school rules into a larger bill dealing with union and supervisory school district structure. The new rules are intended to shut down efforts to save small local schools from the chopping block. The language, which appears to be copied and pasted from the bad-faith Act H493, further complicates an already convoluted and time-consuming process citizens must go through to defend their schools. As Ripton can attest, withdrawing from consolidated districts is plenty difficult already! Not sure where this push to stifle local self-determination is coming from, but it has to stop.

Forcibly closing schools and making young kids take long bus rides is not just bad pedagogy, it’s short-sighted policy. First, it assumes that the past decade’s population declines were inevitable and irreversible, without putting any thought into solutions like affordable housing and reliable services. Instead, consolidation bet against the future of small towns, just as the enormous millennial generation started families. Now Vermont is seeing an influx of climate-motivated in-migration, which will only accelerate as weather patterns devolve.

Even if the promised short-term “cost savings” materialize (doubtful!), closing community schools is pennywise/pound-foolish in the extreme. Are we willing to cut the life out of so many distinctive, community-minded townships with no democratic recourse? Can the living value of a town be reduced to saving a few pennies in taxes? What about changing how we fund education so that land-rich/money-poor Vermonters aren’t disproportionately squeezed?

The controversy over closing schools is really a fight over the unique character of our brave little state. While much of the nation has melted into a bland, dysfunctional “geography of nowhere,” Vermont’s hills and valleys still harbor the scrappy little towns that are our greatest strength. Each tightly knit, stubbornly unique Vermont town is a reservoir of place-based knowledge, practical life skills and old fashioned getting-alongness that springs to life when trouble comes calling. 

Small towns are Vermont’s “little engines that could” and the wellspring of our famous adaptability and community-mindedness. The very last thing we should be doing right now is attacking the fierce, plucky communities fighting their hearts out for their schools. I vote against act H493 in any form, whether it’s proposed openly or slyly inserted into larger legislation. 

Long live Vermont’s funky little towns!

Nora Swan

Ripton

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