Letter to the editor: Merger vote a major lesson
After two years of wrestling with the Mount Abraham Unified School District (MAUSD) and the State Board of Education, Lincoln received unanimous approval from the state to form its own supervisory district. Perhaps an even bigger surprise came at the beginning of the Nov. 16 Board of Education meeting when the panel accepted Oliver Olsen’s resignation. Under former Chair Olsen, the board was wed to a political agenda supporting Act 46 and the preservation of large, unified districts despite the lack of data or comprehensive evaluation to determine if Act 46 has, in fact, improved student outcomes. In the process, the board — under Olsen’s leadership — demonstrated a remarkable insensitivity to the plight of small community schools at risk of closure.
The similarities are striking regarding MAUSD Superintendent Patrick Reen’s proposal unveiled back in December 2020. His plan included a duplicitous attempt to “repurpose” (Translation? Close.) three community schools and merge MAUSD with the Addison Northwest Supervisory District. If MAUSD was functioning properly, the board would devise strategic initiatives aligned with community values and then direct the superintendent to implement them. Instead, we observed the superintendent directing board strategy while trying to circumvent a 5-Town agreement on school closure and promoting a merger in spite of the fact that community outreach showed substantial opposition. It’s no surprise that the proposed merger failed miserably (4,282 against and 1,886 in favor). It was a misguided pursuit that wasted significant taxpayer time and money.
At the state level, we can only hope that with new leadership the Board of Education will be open-minded enough to see the Lincoln outcome as an opportunity to test their assumptions. The truth is, bigger is not always better, especially given the geographic and cultural realities of our state. Locally, MAUSD lacks the leadership necessary to create a compelling vision for the district that unites rather than divides communities. Both the superintendent and board chair should follow in Oliver Olsen’s footsteps and step aside so the district can move forward with leaders honestly invested in serving the 5-Town communities, rather than pursuing agendas and initiatives with little community support.
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