Letter: Candidate for new board states his view on Act 46

On Nov. 7, voters in the Bennington, Pownal, Shaftsbury, and Woodford school districts will decide whether to merge into a new unified school district. On the same ballot, they will choose a new 11-member board of directors for the proposed district.

I am a candidate for one of the director seats, and as someone who cares deeply about the future of our local public school system, I would appreciate your vote. I would also like to encourage a Yes vote on the merger proposal.

The merits of Act 46, the law that led to this election, are debatable. But the debate, which began in Montpelier some three years ago, is essentially over. Like it or not, the state has given every indication that it will forcibly merge our individual districts out of existence, and do so on its own terms, if the vote on Nov. 7 fails. It's a pretty safe bet that, one way or another, our elementary districts will be closing up shop and going out of business over the next two years.

That doesn't mean the schools themselves will close. In fact, a Yes vote may help keep a school building open in the long run. But Yes or No, it does mean that the local school boards would disband.

Fewer boards means fewer meetings, and some critics of Act 46 have dismissed it as a "Superintendents bill," primarily intended to make Administration jobs less time-consuming. If so, that's a good thing. Wouldn't we have more success finding and keeping the most qualified educational leaders if they could focus more time on education and policy, and less on governance and politics?

Finally, let's not be too dismissive of the four years of tax breaks that would come with a Yes vote—they are real and significant, especially for property owners who don't qualify for income sensitivity adjustments. Other districts across the state are already benefiting from the first year of tax breaks, and we're all paying for it. Let's not be left out — or wonder two years from now what more we could have done to reduce the tax burden.

Yes or No, Act 46 is going to result in some loss of "local" control over decisions on classroom size, who to hire, improvements to the physical plant, etc. We will need to acknowledge that loss, and find new ways to give parents and citizens a way to have input on the schools in their own communities, such as local advisory boards or forums.

Let's be clear: voting No will not save the schools from anything. But a Yes vote will also help insure that all our communities continue to have a strong voice overseeing the new Mount Anthony Unified School District.

David K. Durfee



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