Published in News and Citizen 9-29-15

A Silver Lining

    Act 46 is the state's latest attempt at fixing the antiquated school system Vermont uses.
    Its opponents have been lining up to complain about what it does and what it doesn't do. Even its proponents, like our own Shap Smith, have admitted it will need some tweaking over time.
    It would be easy to sit here and rail on the perceived shortcomings of the bill - it does nothing to specifically cut costs, it moves us closer to mandatory consolidation and it takes away local control of our schools, etc.
    Instead I'm offering my 53 cents on some of the silver linings to the bill.  First off it brings to light something we in Morristown have known for years.  There is a very pronounced socio-economic difference between Morristown and Stowe, or to be blunt the haves and the have-nots or in some cases the want to feel like you haves and the could care less that they don'ts.  I've never considered it a contentious divide. There simply is a difference in what matters, in what is liked for fun and just how life is lived.
    In my eyes, neither is wrong and neither needs to do  anything to change, it is what it is and no one on either side seems in any hurry to change it. It is my hope this kind of a difference will help the architects of Act 46 finally see that complete consolidation like what Lamoille South has not looked at twice, will only work in schools with similar ideals, similar principles and most importantly communities that see themselves as equals. Instead you wind up with consolidation between communities like Morristown and Elmore, where the best argument for it is, “ we've got to do something.”
    The second point, and to me the most important, is Act 46 finally brings to the fore front a perception a lot of people have held for a long time.  The state is wresting control from each town's school board.  One of the main points of the bill is making a quick path to consolidation for a school district like Lamoille North. If approved, it will structure the elementary school system much like the high school system.  But what they seem to gloss over is, that system includes one school board covering all the schools and each town's school board goes away.  The traditionalists are up in arms over the loss of local control, but let's face it, local control has been going away for a long time.  The State is finally admitting it. They have long said part of the issue with superintendent burn out is the amount of meetings they have to attend.  Just as the only way to save money is to not spend money, the only true way to have superintendents not go to so many meetings is to not have as many boards.
    In my view, this opens the doors though for a stronger Parent Teachers Association (PTA) at each school.  Go to a Lamoille North district meeting and you will quickly realize that the new board charged with dealing with all of the elementary schools is not going to have time to tackle small, but important issues like how are we organizing our open house or what new equipment do we need on our playground.  These issues are already often tackled, and quite well I might add as evidenced by some of the new playgrounds around the County, by volunteer groups, so why not make these tasks more official.
    For better or worse, I can see our new PTAs becoming more like the stereotypical ones we have seen on TV with public election of officers and boards that have some teeth to affect change in their schools.  Hopefully, though, we can avoid the petty drama of TV PTA boards, but that probably won't happen so my final silver lining is: Act 46 is going to offer me more editorial fodder down the road.