Education Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: No guarantee of cost, learning benefits with merger

There are several espoused advantages to merging our school district, MAUSD, with the Vergennes school district, ANWSD: efficiency of operation, broader opportunities for collaboration and sharing — particularly at the middle and high school levels — and potential cost savings.

What interests most voters is tax savings and the quality of our students’ education. There are estimates about the amount of money that may be saved by combining various aspects of our two districts. However, there is no certainty about these savings.

Similar arguments were made for consolidating our individual school boards into one combined school board that renamed us as MAUSD. Although many changes ensued, I have yet to hear of significant tax savings or improved instruction resulting from that transition.

Since consolidation, many specialist teachers have been assigned to move between two schools. This may be more efficient on some levels, but it means these teachers are no longer fully present at either school, narrowing their scope and resulting in less flexibility in meeting the needs of students, less opportunity to collaborate with classroom teachers, less opportunity to become part of the school culture and pitch in on school projects and events.

On the other hand, there has been effective collaboration and sharing across our three neighboring school districts for decades.

My stepson, now in his forties, attended the Addison Repertory Theater (ART) at the Hannaford Career Center in Middlebury while he was a student at Mount Abe. The career center continues to offer a range of outstanding programs to students across our three school districts. Students are regularly bused across districts to attend these programs.

Likewise, for 18 years, students from three districts have attended the Walden Project, an outstanding alternative public high school program in Monkton. While we may not be able to shuffle teachers from school to school, our three districts already have effective collaborative relationships that can certainly be further explored and developed.

The literature I received from the Merger Study Committee estimates a $2.5M savings “from potential combined middle and high schools.”

Given the salary differentials between teachers in our two districts and the added cost of busing, any savings in a merged district is far from assured. In fact, the Stop the Merger group found “no evidence that the merger will save costs compared with not merging: the merger becomes more costly than unmerged after the first 3-4 years.”

If the merger passes, we are about to elect board representatives who will work with representatives from eight other towns in our two present school districts to make decisions about the extent of the merger. I am unclear where our representatives stand on this issue, as I have not heard from them in any of the Merger Study Group literature, in the Addison Independent or on Front Porch Forum.

Placing merger decisions in the hands of a 13-member board across nine schools and eight towns is not in the best interest of students or taxpayers. Equity is not the same as uniformity. Let’s slow down and build on the unique strengths we already have in our schools and communities to solve the problems at hand.

Alice Leeds

Bristol

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