Education Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: For merger vote, it’s OK to question long-held beliefs

Three years ago, I joined the Community Engagement Committee of the MAUSD school board as a volunteer because I knew the big challenges we faced as a district and I was confident our five-town community would come together to find creative solutions to the problem. I have been disheartened by the misrepresentation of information about the MAUSD (and now the Merger Study Committee’s work), the alternative facts being force fed our community and the inaccuracies of statements being made by people with their own agendas over these as many years.

The reality is that our district has worked with our community every step of the way to solve what is not a “perceived crisis” but a real financial challenge to educating our kids in a declining enrollment trend. Data and facts do not lie and the data bears out this reality. Sitting in an echo chamber, reposting false or misrepresented facts without understanding the full picture only further exacerbates the problem.

Listening to President Obama speak recently about what is wrong with our country now mirrors what is happening here at the local level. Stirring up fear and anger and walking away from difficult conversations and a process meant to find solutions for all our kids is what divides us. I think we would all do well to stop the blaming, the finger-pointing, the name-calling and to take responsibility for our own roles in creating where we are today.

I appreciate the hard work of the people who are committed to creating the best educational outcomes for our students in light of the financial realities of our times. When we moved to New Haven almost 30 years ago, the first person we met was Earl Bessette, a life-long farmer and a neighbor who became one of my most favorite people here. We didn’t agree on lots of things but on our almost daily encounters on our roads and farm fields, we often talked about the changes he had seen over the years. When a particular initiative was being considered that I knew he was opposed to, I asked him how he felt about it. His response stayed with me over these many years. After a few minutes, while scratching his head, he looked me in the eye and said, “Well, Kim, the world is a changing place, and I just better start changing along with it.” Sometimes systems that have worked under better economic times might need to evolve so we can pursue what will be best for a majority of people. We have to be willing to step out of our own ideological viewpoints to understand an issue from a broader perspective. And to participate in the finding of answers to these issues in a mutually respectful way.

I appreciate the passion people in our community have toward providing the best education for our kids. I appreciate the concern people have about the possibility of losing their community schools. And I especially appreciate the work our district has done to listen to these concerns, to adjust the path forward and to accommodate this input. I also have a deep respect for the people with extensive educational and community experience who came together to consider the recent merger initiative as a possible way for us to accomplish those goals. We need to find a way to keep academic, social and extra-curricular opportunities available for our kids at a cost everyone can afford. Right now, a vote to bring MAUSD and ANWSD together to explore ways to make that happen feels necessary given the economic realities of education funding and enrollment predictions. And even with a yes merger vote, there is no reason a town can’t decide to leave the district if they feel their community school is being threatened with closure. The bar for closure under a merged governance is high. And for the past several years and for the next five years, that threat simply does not exist.

We can differ in our opinions but my hope is that there will be more integrity, honesty and respect in the sharing of those perspectives. Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming vote, it would be great to see all the energy people are putting into trying to stop a possible path forward into an effort to create real and sustainable options for our students and taxpayers. And it might mean that we might all have to make some changes to long-held beliefs that may not now adequately serve the needs of our students, families and communities.

Kim Callahan

New Haven

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