Education Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Merger provides a good path for difficult situation

I support a merger between the ANWSD and the MAUSD. In the interest of transparency and to help us continue our work together, I am writing to explain my reasons. I speak not for the ANWSD Board nor in my capacity as Chair. I speak only on my own behalf.

I’ve attended all the informational meetings and witnessed the extraordinary effort by community members who volunteered their time to offer a real, tangible option to reimagine our future. That option clearly comes with some risks, but so does not merging. Reasonable people can disagree, but I see the ANWSD at a crossroads. Merging with Mount Abe offers a pathway to new conversations and new opportunities to address our stubbornly chronic condition.

We are very small (even in merging we would still be a really small school district) and education here is relatively expensive compared to the rest of Vermont and nationwide. The ANWSD provides a smaller set of course offerings and educational programs for our students than many other districts. Although those programs and courses are well delivered, we will struggle to maintain them and keep taxes low. It’s not impossible that we could muddle through with increasingly high taxes, but really adding the kinds of educational programs that would align us with other districts in the state will become more difficult.

What I learned the most from watching the merger study committee is that the people in our neighboring communities can work together towards the common good. We are really no different from one another in our desire to achieve some important things in life: healthy, positive community relationships, a good education for all of our children, and most importantly the opportunity to both disagree and search for common ground. We can govern together. We already work together, we worship together, and we play together. I see a merger as an extension of a long and fruitful relationship that can flourish. I’m grateful to the merger study committee for modeling that for us.

Merging our governance structure with Mt. Abe will help us grow our ability for creative problem solving, cooperation, and good civic dialogue. A larger and more diverse school community can bring new ideas and new solutions to problems and obstacles we may never have imagined by ourselves. I see the merger as an expansion of our capacity to imagine a future and make that a new reality.

Our districts have a long track record of cooperation, and we’ve built the trust necessary to achieve common goals together. There is some concern about Mt. Abe having 60% and ANWSD having 40% of this new constitution. I am confident that the problems we will tackle in a merged district will not neatly line up along town lines —new alliances will form and our interests will evolve. Even if we were to eventually move to merging a single high school and a single middle school, those we elect will not pit our district communities against one another. More importantly, community members in both districts won’t let it happen without their voices and input being heard.

I see this moment representing just one more additional step in a long pattern of cooperation. We have a tough situation to deal with, and I’m heartened to see our communities doing the difficult work to get to this vote. This is a good moment for us all. Regardless of the results, it’s an optimistic turning point for both of these communities.

I’ve learned a great deal through these conversations and I think that, on the whole, the merger provides a good path to avoiding increasingly higher taxes and to maintaining educational programs. It most certainly won’t solve all our problems and it won’t be easy, but what excites me most is the opportunity for new ideas, emergent conversations, and enhanced educational offerings that are best attainable if we reconstitute ourselves as a new school district. Please go to your town clerks or show up at your local voting precinct so that you can participate in this decision.

Respectfully,

John Stroup

Vergennes

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