1. Jason
    Jason November 19, 2015 at 5:33 pm | | Reply

    This doesn’t seem to fit into the state you describe Erica. I’m sorry that efficiency is, as it usually does, costing you parts of the culture you love. No one ever seems to know what they’re actually doing, do they?

    Good luck, and I hope things work out for the best for you and your people there. Thank you, always, for a great podcast.

  2. Cathy
    Cathy November 19, 2015 at 5:43 pm | | Reply

    We saw this happen to many small towns in the 60’s and 70’s. It resulted in many villages becoming almost dead as far as community is concerned.
    Busing shouldn’t happen until high school. Young children need to feel rested and connected to do well.

  3. John Fish
    John Fish November 19, 2015 at 6:32 pm | | Reply

    Our little town of Elmore has the last operating one room school in the state. It provides a affordable appropriate education for grades 1,2,3 . We just voted to not merge with Morrisville. The deal was that we would lose school choice ( those who currently have it would be grandfathered ) and our one room school would remain open for four more years and the consolidated board would vote in the fifth year it’s fate. This has divided our community even though Morrisville voted yes by two votes and Elmore voted no by I think thirty three votes rejecting the merger we are now going to be faced with a re-vote. This is due to the perception that there was a lot of mis information. Our school is cheaper to operate currently then paying tuition out to Morrisville. What troubles me is that the state will restore barns, buildings , bridages and other things based on historical preservation, but here we have the last remaining operating one room school and its held hostage to Montpelier ! I’ve taught in small schools my whole career in this state 25 years. These schools are the backbone of the community . Lets not lose our schools and values over short sighted laws with the promise of bigger is better and more opportunity ! We all know the elephant in the room is the cost of health care and it effects on local budgets. Thank you for your pod cast on this very important issue.

  4. Terri
    Terri November 20, 2015 at 8:25 am | | Reply

    Vermont citizens determine how much they pay locally for their schools. Each year, every school in Vermont comes under intense scrutiny during the budgeting process as the board and the community balance the needs of their children with the costs. And, in general, children win as school boards meet the community’s priorities of education and economics. Most local school budgets pass in spite of manipulations like the “two-vote mandate” that was the legislature’s last attempt to take power from local communities. That didn’t work. People voted YES twice and kept the schools they wanted for their children.

    Vermont has some of the best schools in the country. Under almost any measure of “success”, Vermont ranks in the top 10, usually the top 5, in the country. Why? Because we are directly connected with our schools and our children. Yes, I can talk to my school board member in the grocery store. School boards here are made of volunteers who care about the children and the community, not people with political ambitions that see the office as a stepping stone. Is that the change we really want to see? Centralization of power?

    Power and money in education is moving farther and farther from the core of education–children. Does that really make sense? In a state famous for independence, where craftspeople flourish and direct representative government has existed for over 200 years, are we prepared to let elected officials tell us we are no longer able to run our own schools?

  5. Sage
    Sage November 20, 2015 at 8:29 am | | Reply

    This was wonderful. I am grateful you did a piece on this. Small, rural towns are being pushed and pulled into this, and they have the most to lose. The part about the small town grants becoming consolidation reward-money was powerful. Calais is not Berlin or East Montpelier, nor should it be. This might be the worst piece of legislation in Vermont this century.

  6. jeff
    jeff November 20, 2015 at 1:52 pm | | Reply

    Well done, insightful and informed conversation. Lived in Maine as they moved to consolidate and big schools never skipped a beat and small schools closed and students were bused. I think Maine has recently tried to undo some of this and I can’t believe we continue to fall prey to the quest to save some money on things that have proven to be disadvantageous to those we are supposed to protect the most. To me, the roots to this weed started when Brigham decision equated equal education with equal funding. No doubt taxes are too high and Education Budget is one of the largest targets in Montpelier but local control when there was no requirement tied to Brigham meant people had to be invested in their schools and their local town governance and they did the best they could with the money and built the best schools they could. If we allow Montpelier to make this conversation be about efficiency and lose site of the fact that our tradition of involvement in town politics is being taken away we will change our towns for the worse.

  7. James Fecteau
    James Fecteau November 22, 2015 at 11:11 pm | | Reply

    I live in Huntington Vermont and can say we have fought the good fight (RED, and the this last push that I can not remember the name of). I attended the meetings for the last merger push and folk representing the district were talking down GOOD points being made, points I wanted to hear. Had to shush them twice. I almost berated them in front of everyone. From this interview I’m thinking I should have!!
    We are done and have pulled our kids out of the public system and stopped going to town meetings. What the heck is the sense it is just a waste of time as no one is listening! Good luck Vermont.

  8. George
    George November 24, 2015 at 8:13 am | | Reply

    As a former school board member of a small rural school, I appreciate the idea of maintaining local governance, but the reality is that very few people are really engaged in the process. During my 5+ years on the board, there has never been more than 8 people (out of 1700) attending any school board meeting. And as long as school spending is directly tied to local taxes, there will continue to be outrage over the cost of educating our kids. This, along with a longstanding and continuing downward trend in school enrollment will eventually make that small rural school unsustainable. Consolidation of the school boards is not necessarily the problem — it’s too soon to tell. Every town will still have a voice (albeit a smaller one) on the consolidated board, the bigger problem is school funding and public engagement. We should be working to fix that rather than bemoan the loss of some perceived local control.

  9. Susan Clark
    Susan Clark November 28, 2015 at 7:15 pm | | Reply

    I agree with George that we can up our game. Yes, I deeply value our tradition of local school boards paired with school meeting. And this system is effective in many small communities. But. There are other tools we can use to bring Vermonters into the conversation.

    Largely as a push-back to overcentralization — the kind incentivized by Act 46 — many communities across the U.S. have been creating inclusive, deliberative citizen-powered decision making. (Ironically, most of these places are wishing in their wildest dreams that they could achieve the high social capital and democratic commitment that we take for granted in Vermont.) Now, in the face of Act 46, Vermonters need to figure out how to retain the many parts of our democratic system that work. But we can also take inspiration and fresh ideas from other communities that have been through this mill.

    Creative citizen engagement is at the cutting edge of community development today. Although Act 46 makes it harder, we CAN design stronger local democratic systems. It is lively, creative, and deeply important work, and I’m personally committed to it.

    Wonk Alert: If you’re interested in learning more about creative participation options, check out http://www.ncdd.org. You’ll find groups like Study Circles http://everyday-democracy.org, Participatory Budgeting http://www.participatorybudgeting.org, and other deliberative processes. There’s lots more on this issue in our book “Slow Democracy” http://slowdemocracy.org.

  10. David Major
    David Major December 3, 2015 at 9:37 am | | Reply

    Yes – Act 46 discourages school choice, is inflexible, and seems unlikely to reduce the cost of education, but these are not the reason I believe Act 46 should be repealed. It should be repealed because Act 46 seriously undermines who we Vermonters are as a people and how we have chosen to run our society.

    Perhaps I am in the minority on this issue. Perhaps because my birthday often falls on town meeting day; perhaps because I have been a resident of Vermont all of my 54 years; perhaps because my father was town moderator and my mother the town’s first kindergarten teacher – perhaps because of these things I care more about our town meeting form of government than many others. But I am not so sure. I hear reports of barely functional or failed democratic institutions around the world, of violent elections, inaccessible city halls, and polarized legislative bodies, and I think how fortunate we are in Vermont to have our town meetings – a form of participatory democracy which is as true and successful a democratic institution as any since ancient Greece.

    The vast majority of towns in Vermont gather together at least once a year to decide directly whether to fund a new tanker for the fire department, or pick up trash throughout town, or give money to the aqueduct society. And most important for most of us, we decide how to educate our children : a town preschool? a foreign language program? tuition the middle schoolers or teach them in town? The education of our students forms the biggest expenditure that we decide upon at town meeting, and the school portion of town meeting tends to draw the most people, and it certainly has the most influence on who we Vermonters are to be in 10 years, 20 years, and beyond.

    With the carrot of “transition incentives” and the stick of excessive tax penalties, Act 46 is designed to take away from towns the power to make decisions about education and place that power in the hands of a regional board. It pushes towns to eliminate their school boards and eliminate the school portion of the annual town meeting in favor of a system of school governance at a multi-town district level.

    The longer Act 46 stays on the books, the more towns will succumb to the pressure created by the law and eliminate their power to make decisions about their schools at their town meetings. Several towns in the state have already done so.

    I believe that the elimination of the ability of town citizens to make direct, substantive decisions about the education of their children will drastically weaken our town meeting form of government: there is no point in sacrificing a day to meet if the power to effect change has been taken away. I do not know what sort of Vermont identity and local government would evolve to fill the gaps left by a disempowered town meeting, but I look across the country and see the possibility that distant, consolidated governing bodies will replace citizen involvement. Apathy and the feeling being disenfranchised may well increase.

    There are many paths. It seems to me that many of the 20th century advantages of consolidation have vanished in the 21st century of instantaneous information and communication. These days some of the best and least costly educational outcomes can result from the least consolidated of choices – like homeschooling. Let us – the citizens, school boards, legislature, and administration – work together to make our schools affordable and of the highest quality without dismantling our tradition of participatory democracy.

    1. Matthew Pattrson
      Matthew Pattrson December 6, 2015 at 9:17 pm | | Reply

      Thank you david for your experience and insight.

  11. Bryan Alexander
    Bryan Alexander December 5, 2015 at 7:49 pm | | Reply

    (cross-posted to Vermont Digger)
    Let me say up front that I’m a school board member (Ripton; also ACSU board), and these are my own opinions.

    This episode powerful document for this historical moment, this episode is a vital contribution to the debate. Because the implementation of Act 46 is indeed a debate, depute is being settled law.

    I appreciate how Heilman captures the voices of those in Vermont who value local control and small schools. They can shape how this consolidation process plays out.

    I fear that, statements to the contrary, the end goal of this process will be closing schools and firing teachers. That is the only way to significantly cut costs; board consolidation will only reduce expenses a fraction, in comparison. This could cut the heart out of many small towns.

  12. Bruce Lierman
    Bruce Lierman December 7, 2015 at 5:09 pm | | Reply

    Thanks very much for this intense, uncompromising examination of the social effects of the decisions communities will make in response to Act 46.
    Any district would be negligent, and foolhardy, not to take a hard look at the options available to them under Act 46. The deeper you look, the more you realize what is at stake in this process.
    And yet, the worst implication of this law is this: any way in which a district cooperates, engages with this process, makes them party to the disempowerment of their communities.
    I hope that every district will consider as one option, not participating in the Act 46 process. Of course there are real risks to this option. There are real risks to every option under this law.

  13. Rob
    Rob December 10, 2015 at 9:40 pm | | Reply

    “Equity of opportunity” is a phrase that is thrown around by legislators in support of Act 46 and like most politicians they really don’t understand where true opportunity lies in education. Educational opportunity doesn’t lie in foreign language classes or technology driven curriculum and certainly not in school sports teams, it lies in the ability of a school to offer each and every child a pathway to become a lifelong learner who can approach any situation with the confidence and tools necessary to succeed.

    My wife is a public school educator in the largest middle school in the state and I taught there as well for ten years and both of my young children attend a small, independent, progressive education school with 35 students, grades k-8, thanks in large part to school choice. They both are very different learners and at their school they are each given individualized instruction based not only on who they are as learners but, also who they are as people. At the middle school, as much as teachers try, there is simply not enough time or the mandate to provide that type of opportunity to the hundred plus students they see in a day. Those students may have access to a large gymnasium, multiple sports fields and teams, to a choice of language classes, etc but what they don’t have is the true educational opportunity that can be had in a small school, private or public.

    On a side note, I attended a local discussion on Act 46 with the local legislators, as well as with members of the education committee who crafted the act, including the chair and the first thing that was said to start off the meeting, by the chair of the ed. committee mind you, was roughly, “We realize that this legislation doesn’t really work for this part of the state.” And throughout the evening there were hints of admission that the law doesn’t really work well for smaller towns in the rural parts of the state. So, basically he was saying it was written for what Burlington and Montpelier? Or as a thoughtless response to those who are angered over their tax bills?

  14. Elizabeth McDonald
    Elizabeth McDonald December 30, 2015 at 12:56 am | | Reply

    This is amazing and so important. Vermont, please don’t give up on what makes us so right. Taking care of the children in our community and not shipping them out for others to care for is what makes Vermont great. As a society, we can do more by caring for our local communities, our own backyards and trusting that each district will do the same. Act 46 is another attempt by Montpelier to fix a failed budget system on the backs of it’s youngest citizens. We are forever trying to save money on the very people we should be working to keep in state. Vermont, come on, don’t give up on what makes you great, your people, all of them, young and old.

  15. Jody Normandeau
    Jody Normandeau March 29, 2016 at 11:45 am | | Reply

    This is a very powerful audio. Unfortunately it is about the northern part of our wonderful state. We down in the southern part of the State (Brattleboro area) are having the very same problems and discussions and I agree with almost all that is being said in the comments. Our area is being pushed to an accelerated model by our study committee and the Administration even though some of the small towns are voicing opposition to the whole concept of of merger for all the same reasons explored in the video. We have excellent schools, great test scores, well educated and happy students. They go on to high school and to further education and excel. Problems don’t get lost in the system. We all need to unite to fight this consolidation push by the State. It seems we are all trying to do this on our own. Perhaps we could all meet somewhere in the middle of the State and begin to work together for the repeal of this very bad bill.

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