Over the last nine months, I have served as a Barre Town representative on the Act 46 School Consolidation Committee. The committee was made up of seven Barre Town residents and seven Barre City residents. Some folks on the committee were current school board members bringing their educational experience to the Act 46 committee discussions.

I should point out that everyone who served cares deeply about education in Barre, and that showed as we had our conversations about how our schools operate. We are all (Barre City and Barre Town) individuals and all have our own opinions about how our education system should work. I do think the one area of common ground among all committee members was we do not appreciate the state of Vermont’s constant repositioning to force unification with Barre schools.

As your representative, I feel it is my responsibility to report to you the efforts of the Act 46 school unification committee.

In November 2016, I voted ‘no’ on Act 46 unification of our schools for five reasons. My goal was to offer input to the committee to change the old Articles of Agreement to protect Barre Town as much as is reasonable.

— My concern: Barre Town School on June 30, 2016, had approx. $730,000 in fund balance of Barre Town tax dollars. As a Barre Town resident, I wanted to see that money spent on the Barre Town School buildings, grounds, education. The November 2016 and January 2017 revote did not protect our tax dollars.

The proposed solution: After the January 2017 vote, the Barre Town School Board spent all of the $730,000 on a brand-new parking lot and other facility upgrades. As of June 30, 2018, the Barre Town School fund balance was $650,000. The Barre Town School Board has a plan to spend that money on more Barre Town School upgrades to a point that Barre Town fund balance would be the same as the Barre City fund balance should Act 46 school unification vote pass. Both communities would go into a unified school district with the same amount of cash.

— My concern: Barre Town Recreation Area tennis courts, basketball courts, picnic area, skate park, dog park, soccer field, softball and baseball fields, etc., at the Barre Town School were property of the school. Under the unified plan, the Barre Town Recreation Area would be owned and operated by the Unified School District.

The solution: Barre Town School Board transferred ownership of the Barre Town Recreation Area to the town of Barre. This ensures that the town of Barre will own, manage and care for those valued, and heavily used, recreation facilities.

— My concern: The old Articles of Agreement allowed unified school board could move grades from one building to the other at any time they chose to.

The solution: The new Articles of Agreement being proposed now, requires voter approval before any grades could be relocated.

— My concern: The old Articles of Agreement allowed a unified school board to move a few students from one building to the other in an effort to even out class sizes.

The solution: Under the new Articles of Agreement, the school board and staff cannot move students from one building to the other unless the parents have requested the move, and the school is able to accommodate the move.

— My most important concern: The old Articles of Agreement could have been changed by the unified school board at anytime they chose to make a change.

The solution: The new Articles of Agreement prohibit changes to the Articles of Agreement unless the unified school board has obtained voter approval to make any proposed change.

Two other considerations of Act 46 is the quality of education and the cost of education in a unified school district.

The answers to the cost of education is simple: Barre is already the lowest cost per student in the entire state of Vermont.

The answer as to the quality of education, well, it is very subjective and it really depends on your perspective. I can tell you that the quality of education in Barre City and Barre Town either meet, or exceed, the statewide average for quality of education.

Is unification going to improve the quality of education? No one really knows the answer to that question.

It should be noted, the protections offered above referenced in the new Articles of Agreement, will not be in Articles of Agreement forced upon us if Vermont Board of Education forces us to consolidate.

Above are the five reasons I voted ‘no’ in November 2016 and January 2017. As a member of the Act 46 school unification committee, it seems that all of the proposed solutions above are fair and reasonable and address all of the reasons I voted ‘no.’

Our choices are:

Vote ‘no’ — Cross your fingers and hope for the best.

Vote ‘no’ — Maybe the State will not force unification. With the recent actions of the State Board of Education, I think its very likely we will be forced to unify.

Vote ‘no’ — Lose the 8-cent tax reduction in the first year, 6-cent tax reduction in second year, 4-cent tax reduction in third year, 2-cent tax reduction in the fourth year.

Vote ‘no’ — Lose all of the protections your friends and neighbors on the unification committee negotiated that help our communities with the new Articles of Agreement.

Vote ‘no’— We will be stuck with Articles of Agreement drafted by the State of Vermont; believe me, they are not very good. They are drafted by the same people who created Act 46, if that tells you anything.

Vote ‘yes’ — Keeps all of the protections in the new Articles of Agreement created by your friends and neighbors from Barre.

Vote ‘yes’ —See a reduction in your taxes, 8 cents first year, 6 cents second year, 4 cents third year and 2 cents fourth year.

Vote ‘yes’ – Keeps Barre Town students in Barre Town School and Barre City students in Barre City School.

Vote ‘yes’ — Keeps Barre Town teachers in Barre Town School and Barre City teachers in Barre City School.

Vote ‘yes’ — Keeps our schools operating just like we have known them to operate in the past.

Vote ‘yes’— Will create a new nine-member school board to run Barre City School, Barre Town School and Spaulding High School: four folks from Barre Town, four folks from Barre City and one person elected at-large from Barre City or Town. This is a change from what we have been doing. Each school has had its own school board in the past.

In closing, none of these choices are great choices. My first choice is to stay as we are. But I also recognize that the state of Vermont most likely will not leave us as we are. Facing that reality, we should choose the option that gives us the most control of our schools. We need to make the best choice we can, or the state will make our choice for us.

Your ‘no’ vote will put our future in the hands of the State of Vermont.

Your ‘no’ vote will make your taxes go up, without any doubt.

Finally, shame on the legislators in Montpelier who thought Act 46 was a one-size-fits-all.

The Vermont House and Vermont Senate Education committees should be ashamed of themselves.

We need to make the best choice we can out of a bad situation created by the state of Vermont.

Jeff Blow, of Barre Town, is a member of the unification committee for Barre.

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