• Democratic process imperiled by bill
    March 30,2014

    I have missed very few of my local town meetings in the last 30 years. Of course, being an elected member of the Whiting School Board the last 21 years is a good reason to be there. But in Whiting, everyone who wants a say in the town, and school, business must come to town meeting.

    All budgets and elections are done on the floor. Elections are most often uncontested, but if there are any rumors of a competition, the hall is packed. I have never seen a town budget defeated and have only seen a school budget defeated once. It is common practice for both the School Board and Select Board to present responsible budgets.

    Occasionally, budgets are reduced on the floor, but if a budget is amended, it is most likely increased. Voters come in with their annual report and a pencil — sometimes with knitting or children in tow — and discussion begins.

    What we need to teach our children and the skills they need may have changed in the last 100 years, but what we need to instill in them has not. Who wouldn’t want more and better educational opportunities for our children? We all want our children to thrive and succeed in the world. We want our children to grow up feeling valued, accepted for who they are, proud of where they live and to be responsible citizens who contribute to their communities.

    Vermont’s town meetings are crucial to this outcome and to our way of life. It is the connection to our local towns and schools that is the foundation of civic responsibility.

    H.883 will drastically change school governance, Vermont’s town meetings and ultimately the democratic process that we cherish as citizens in Vermont. The bill eliminates supervisory unions by July 2020 and creates new K-12 regional education districts. The governing bodies will be farther from the student and farther from the people. Large regional budgets will be hard to understand and harder to pass, no amending on the floor.

    There is no guarantee of increased student learning opportunities with consolidation of governance. The question remains will consolidation of governance save money at any level.

    There are many school board members in Vermont, and I challenge you to work in your local communities while you still have a chance. Informing and engaging our citizens is our duty. Please consider holding special public meetings to educate your communities on H.883 as it moves forward.

    There is strong political will in the House to move this through, and I wish I could say it is all about our students. We need to find the why in this bill and what is the will of the people. We can work together to find solutions to our educational needs and challenges. Committee rooms in Montpelier are not the only place for this discussion. It is Vermont’s discussion.

    Carol Brigham is a member of the Whiting School Board.

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