OPINION: Act 46 Causes Loss Of Community Investment

by Jennifer Marckres (Craftsbury School Board Member)

Craftsbury Schools is a PK-12 system serving the town of Craftsbury and tuition students from several neighboring communities. We are very proud that our Academy is the oldest and smallest high school in the state of Vermont, but that moniker does not keep us from looking forward. Over the last five years we have enjoyed increasing enrollment, stable budgets and an expanded curriculum. Of our 79 high school students we have 30-35 students taking advanced placement classes, many students in more than one class, for a total of 63 enrollments in nine subject areas. Yet even those numbers don’t tell the whole story. We successfully serve a very diverse student population, coming from very different backgrounds choosing to go in many different directions after our job at the academy is finished.

Our school’s greatest pride is our dedication to not just the kind of student we are encouraging in the classroom, but more importantly, the kind of person we are encouraging period. I would invite everyone to visit our website and look at what the portrait of a Craftsbury graduate looks like. You will see that our small schools, and one could argue many other small schools around the state with close ties to the greater community, offer more than just a curriculum and that is the essential component that Act 46 is carelessly discarding.

Under Act 46 we are being asked to voluntarily give up control over the quality product we have built for over 150 years, for a model which may or not save money, may or may not expand educational opportunities, may or may not keep our schools open and which may or may not deliver greater equality throughout the state, five to 10 years down the line. A “one size fits all” set of measures does not fit Craftsbury in any way.

Craftsbury is not afraid of change. Even though Craftsbury Academy is the oldest and smallest high school in the state, I could write a whole dissertation outlining all of the many instances in the last 150 years our community has come together to explore creative, forward thinking initiatives that will ensure the delivery of a quality education while keeping a realistic and watchful eye on the financial implications of that very education. The latest was a three-year commitment to voluntarily explore merger options under Act 153 and 156. Due to the unique makeup of our supervisory union, the merger options were deemed impracticable.

The legislature is now asking us to turn away from what we have been building, successfully I might add, and change course to fix something that isn’t broken. We at Craftsbury feel we have so much to lose and nothing concrete to gain. Craftsbury would be moving from voting on a 3.5 million dollar budget to a 25.5 million dollar district budget. Can anyone really say that taxpayers will not feel less of a personal connection, less of an investment? We will be giving our buildings, buildings with 187 years of history to a district that will manage them along with all of the other school buildings across six towns. What was once center to our towns becomes satellite to our district all in the name “of expanding educational opportunities” and possible cost containment.

The loss of local control is frequently cited as a reason for pushing back at district mergers. That is too simple and doesn’t even begin to capture the travesty that Act 46 represents. What people are lamenting is not the loss of local control but the loss of community investment in the school for nothing quantifiable or guaranteed in return. We don’t argue with the Board of Education that a district board will act in the best interest of the student. We all, whether it is state, district or local, try to act in the best interest of the student. What we are trying to get the Board of Education and the legislators to understand is that by removing our current governance structure, you are alienating the very people that make our education system in Vermont one of the best in the country. The students, parents, staff, board members and administrators of Craftsbury schools are motivated to work harder because of the energy generated by the community. The community is investing in them monetarily AND emotionally and students are accountable to that investment. Craftsbury will not readily abandon that relationship.

We can cite so many examples of community involvement, energy and dedication to our school. In the last five years we have built a gym, invested in sustainable energy, boasted the highest NECAP scores in the state, expanded our curriculum and built a local preschool at the insistence of our tax payers. Families are moving into our isolated, rural town to be a part of what we are building. There is so much more at stake than the future of our small schools. We are hoping that the State Board of Education and the legislators in favor of Act 46 will take the potentially crippling ramifications into consideration.

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