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October 30th, 2014

H.883 Is Not What Vermont Schools Need

 

Editor:

 

There have been many Vermont initiatives to consolidate schools. All have failed because they failed to take local opinions into account. Why then is the legislature accelerating H.883 without study or reflection? If passed, H.883 would consolidate 282 local districts into 50 or so “extended districts.” I believe H.883 would harm Vermont schools.

Countless education studies address the success of small schools (150-500 students). All find smaller schools have higher graduation rates, less risky behaviors and soften the harshness of poverty. It is ironic that nationwide educational systems are striving to mimic Vermont by decreasing school size as a pathway to success for students. Certainly, some districts could benefit by merging with another district. Instead of enacting a one-size-fits-all mandate, the legislature should give incentives and encouragement to do what is best for students.

Moving to big just doesn’t work. The passage of H.883 would be a waste of time and taxpayer money. Several years ago, Maine passed a bill similar to H.883. Maine is now backtracking and separating those recently formed super-supervisory unions.

H.883 would eliminate local school boards. This is not only anti-Vermont in nature it is illogical. Access to decision makers and community involvement are what make Vermont successfully tick and our schools succeed. Other states envy our ‘local-ness’ — our ability to speak with decision-making neighbors who are accountable to us. Eliminating local school boards would lessen parents’ ability to affect decisions regarding their children’s education. It would also lessen the voice of knowledgeable educators who are known by their local boards.

Even if one believes consolidating districts is a good idea, the timing of H.883 is poor. Last year the Vermont legislature passed Act 77 that provides flexible pathways to graduation, personalized learning plans for all students and proficiency-based graduation requirements. Act 77 is a visionary law but requires massive systemic efforts and some paradigm shifts by parents, communities and students. The success of Act 77 means additional work by schools to educate stakeholders about its provisions. Laying another major systemic change on an overloaded system is extremely concerning.

With Act 77, schools were given the start towards real expansion of student opportunities and educational reform. H.883’s top-down organization is antithetical to Act 77. H.883 is the kind of old school thinking that mires and binds educational reform and uplifting visions like Act 77.

 

Debra Stoleroff

Plainfield

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