I attended Waterville Elementary School, and I understand the intangible value that small schools bring to small towns. I believe that each community knows best how to educate its children and that we must write our school legislation with small towns in mind.
Small schools provide many benefits beyond their academic role. These schools have been shown to foster more stable mental health in children and are particularly important for providing a safe, comfortable, and close-knit community for children with challenging home environments. In a small town, the school is often the heart and soul of the community - a place to meet neighbors, gather for social events, and support the town’s next generation. I believe in the intangible value of small schools, and that each community should have the ultimate say as to whether or not to close their school.
There are three main issues with Act 46.
Assumption of external debt for districts that merged: When school districts merge, any surplus in budget that a district may have is absorbed by the merged district. Similarly, any debt that a district may have is also transferred to the merged district. Importantly, the same is true for school property - for a small town like Waterville that finally paid off its school building, it is of enormous financial concern to transfer ownership of the building to the merged school district. I believe that ownership of school buildings should remain in the hands of individual towns, and that there should be the option for specific merged school districts to negotiate alternate options for repaying individual towns’ debts.
Financial punishment for school districts that chose not to merge: Although merging was originally presented as a choice, school districts that voted to merge originally were offered 5 years of tax benefits for doing so. The money to provide these benefits was not allocated specifically, but instead came from the general education fund. This means it came from the very towns that were receiving the benefits, as well as the towns that chose not to merge and were receiving none of the benefits. When the final score is tallied, the merger incentives ultimately took money from towns that chose not to merge and redistributed it to towns that did choose to merge. I strongly oppose this system, as it specifically harms geographically isolated and lower-income towns, which tended to be the towns that chose not to merge.
Lack of respect for local choice: On November 30, 2018, the Vermont State Board of Education will issue its final plan for forced mergers in Vermont. It appears that the board will mandate mergers even for towns which voted against said mergers (and received none of the tax benefits of towns that voted to merge). I find it deeply concerning that local opinions do not hold the ultimate authority local issues.
As a young person who would like to live this district for decades to come, I am extremely concerned about property taxes. I recognize that school budgets in Vermont are characterized by a constant tension between needing to practice fiscal responsibility and wanting what is best for our children. I believe that the most effective way to stabilize school budgets is to write legislation that reigns in the cost of health care in Vermont. If we can give faculty and staff high quality health care benefits at a lower rate, we can address our school budgets without negatively impacting children’s classroom experiences. Please continue on to the next page to learn more about my views on health care.