I attended the Vermont State Board of Education hearing on September 19, 2018 at Green Mountain Union High School, Chester, VT. This hearing was for the State Board to hear from districts prior to deciding what to do with those that didn’t opted to merge voluntarily.
The 95 districts that didn’t merge submitted alternative plans, or Section 9 proposals, to the Agency of Education for consideration. Stamford/Clarksburg Interstate group testified.
In June, Acting Education Secretary Heather Bouchey recommended 18 forced mergers. She recommended the remaining unmerged districts not consolidate – due to mergers being impractical or legally impossible – or that they continue with processes already underway. The state board has a final plan due on Nov. 30.
Testimony took place all day with many districts that have been unable to secure a vote to merge from their electorate advocating those votes be respected. Local votes should be respected, particularly on matters limited to that community. Since he passage of Act 60 twenty years ago, education decisions in Vermont very seldom impact only one community.
I provided testimony to the state board which can be read below.
Thank you for allowing me to testify today.
There are a number of points of view I am bringing to this testimony, but to be clear I am testifying today as the State Representative of the Windham-Bennington District.
I’m the oldest of 12 siblings whose lives were measurably improved by the staff of a small rural public school in Whitingham. I would note that is a school district which has since been merged for over 10 years with Wilmington
I’m a mom of three and I invested my treasure, my children, in my community school and that Twin Valley merged district – my girls have graduated from college and my son will head to college in another 2 years
I’m a 17 year member of the Dover School Board which will meet for its final time at this year’s Town Meeting
I’m a one year member of the new River Valleys Unified Board for the merged districts of Dover and Wardsboro, a member of the Windham Central Supervisory Union Board and a four year member of the Vermont School Board Association Board for Windham County School Boards
An elected member of Vermont’s General Assembly who surprised many by voting for Act 46. I did so because I was convinced that our rural schools and students were in trouble. Every single one of my geographically isolated and rural towns has complied with Act 46 resulting in 3 completed mergers, one interstate merger in process and one standalone non operational district. They are all working many many hours to find improved educational benefits for their students.
I hold a private sector job which assesses demographic and economic data for the Windham And Bennington Region – who it should be noted are working together – and the two counties are in the midst of planning strategies to work together to repopulate and reinvigorate the economy in Southern Vermont
I’m also a resident of the Town of Dover. The fourth largest sending Town to the state education fund.
I want to remind you that Vermonters did not get a vote on whether or not they wanted to change how we pay for education after constitutional violations were found in Brigham. Our courts and the legislature – with their statewide view and constitutional imperative – decided for Vermonters because, in Vermont, all students are to be afforded substantially equitable education opportunities no matter where you live.
I want to remind you that Vermont business taxpayers are making huge investments in education for students all throughout the state – without being able to vote on the budgets.
And I want to remind you that students living in poverty, students living in fragile family circumstance, or in towns losing population, students attending schools in places where they can’t access internet, after-school programs, foreign language, or where they don’t have consistently competent boards, top notch administrators or low staff turnover – these students don’t get to vote.
The conditions that created the need for Act 46, chiefly declining population, still exist and in some places, like Southern Vermont, they are accelerating in younger age cohorts. The activity that has taken place to date in the BRSU and along Route 100 and Route 30 have been and continue to be significant for those communities – but that activity alone is not going to fix the inequities or bring greater fiscal accountability to this state funded system.
Please remember – you have a responsibility to all of the kids and the kids don’t get to vote.