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Letter: School Consolidation Makes Sense

To the Editor:

I am disappointed to learn that residents of Braintree voted not to combine their School Board with Randolph and Brookfield. Every other Vermont taxpayer should share my disappointment, because the cost of this decision, which was made against the recommendation of the town’s own School Board, will ultimately be borne by all of us.

I have taken an interest in this question. Anyone who has will quickly figure out that the only matter at stake is the future of Braintree’s elementary school, since that is all there is to Braintree’s school “system.” Were the town to have voted for this consolidation, the next thing that would have happened, four years later thanks to the speed bump set in place by the Legislature, would have been a move to close that school, due to declining enrollment. Thus, those in Braintree voting against this consolidation were voting to keep their elementary school. Though this is understandable, it is nevertheless regrettable, for it has nothing to do with better schooling, or with better spending decisions. Children do not benefit by attending schools that are too small to serve their interests.

This is only one instance of a greater problem facing parents, taxpayers and other concerned citizens statewide. In the 15 years since the Legislature responded to the order given them by the Supreme Court by enacting a statewide property tax and funding scheme for education, such disbursements have annually risen by close to 7 percent. Thus the state’s budget for education has more than doubled. During this period, enrollment statewide has declined by close to 15 percent. One would think this would lead to consolidation, but it has not. For instance, there is a high school in Bethel and one in South Royalton and one in Randolph. But I am willing to bet that standardized testing and other measurements of achievement will not support the claim that smaller is better, and thus that students have fully benefitted from this surge in spending. It is time for these schools to be combined. But it is very doubtful that such necessary consolidations will occur as a result of voluntary actions taken by voters.

Tyler P. Harwell

Bethel