Merger panel ignores input in favor of sales pitch

Letter to the Editor: Merger Panel Ignores Input in Favor of Sales Pitch

Addison Independent | September 29, 2022

By Eugenie Doyle & Joan Holloway

After attending the Merger Study Committee meeting on Sept. 20, we came away quite disturbed.

It was apparent that this group of selected-not-elected citizens came together to study a merger, decided to recommend the merger and have now become the Merger Sales Committee. Rather than considering the questions and concerns taxpayers may have, the committee discussed how to respond to “the opposition” i.e. citizens who happen to question or disagree. They discussed not using certain words such as “enrollment stabilizing” that would admit student population decline is not so dire as previously thought; hence a merger might not be necessary at this time. They discussed plans to pitch the merger by using students in a video and recommended spreading the message that teachers would be laid off if this didn’t go through.

Listening to the committee discussion revealed how much is unknown, even with something as basic and crucial as transportation. A new report apparently advises adding 16 busses to assure a 60 minute-each way student commute. Each bus costs approximately $60,000 per year, an extra $960,000 in busing. This new info should be processed before a vote!

In addition, the committee was not clear if these de-coupled bus routes would have elementary school children leaving and returning home at a different time than middle or high school students. This is a huge issue for families that rely on older kids watching younger kids after parents leave for work or at the end of the day.

The New Solutions K-12 report by consultant Nate Levinson states: “Based on the analysis, MAUSD can maintain 5 small elementary schools if the community, school leaders and central office all embrace a cost effectiveness mindset.” That message has been buried in the pressure to produce a ‘Merge” vote. Why?

This same report states that a merger fits the evaluation criteria: “…if the merger agreement includes giving the towns a vote before closing an elementary school in their town.” That recommendation has been ignored in the current proposal and allows schools to be closed after four years.

Weren’t public schools intended to guarantee a good measure of local control for taxpayers and parents? This merger would dilute Monkton’s (and every town’s) representation. Two reps on a huge, 15-member board! Power centralized in one large unelected administration. Harder to have our voices heard, harder to retain the right to influence to a measured degree how our children are educated. Even the proponents of consolidated districts recognized this problem and allow for vigorous local parent/citizen advisory committees. Our merger committee has not set these up. Let’s not merge ‘til they do.

An alternative to the drastic and premature step of merging would be to collaborate, not merge!

For example, collaborate on AP classes; students could attend via zoom with the educator alternating weeks so one school is not always remote. Same for language classes. So many opportunities for collaboration that don’t require creating a massive district, logistical problems and reduced local control.

While the committee stresses additional opportunities for students, they fail to adequately mention the cost in terms of long travel times, huge distances, and reduced voice at the local level.

The State of Vermont will be mailing ballots for Federal and State elections to all registered votes, but not for this merger question. If you want to vote and will not be voting in person on election day, you need to call your Town Clerk and request a ballot, go to your Town Hall to vote early, or request a ballot at mvp.vermont.gov.

Vote “No” on the Mt. Abe/Vergennes merger!

Eugenie Doyle

Joan Holloway

Monkton


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