Letter: Killing Off Local Control?

To the Editor:

Everywhere I’ve lived, a hot potato has been thrown in my lap, and I’ve grabbed onto it with my asbestos hands and run with it like a football. In 1970, it was the Kent State killings; in 1984, it was the AIDS crisis at Yale; in 1994, it was the statewide teachers’ contract in Vermont, which I am proud to say I had a role in scuttling.

Now in 2014, I thought running for the Hartford School Board would be a tranquil ending to my quarter century of teaching 3,000 of Hartford’s children. But within 10 days of filing my petition to be a School Board candidate, Vermont’s Legislature threw yet another hot potato in my lap: Lawmakers are studying whether to combine Vermont’s 300 school districts into 15 districts.

Let’s do the third-grade math: Fifteen into 300 is 20. Each new district would have about 20 of the former districts in it, or 20 to 30 schools in it. Our “new” district might extend from Bridgewater to Bradford, from Chelsea to Bethel to South Royalton.

Have you heard of the charter school movement? It’s an attempt to make big, anonymous mega-schools into small, welcoming academic neighborhoods, the very thing which Vermont now has and which big states have been killing off for years with disastrous results.

Every school in Vermont is a kind of charter school — because of local control. And now we are going to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Taking local control out of Vermont schools is like taking green out of the Green Mountains.

And just in case you don’t think Vermont schools lay golden eggs, please remember that America’s greatest educational reformer, John Dewey, was born in Burlington and educated in locally controlled Vermont schools.

I notice that no one is opposing me for the two-year slot on Hartford’s School Board. Maybe that’s because they saw what I didn’t see: The Legislature quietly fashioning a meteor to kill off local control of schools.

Maybe my would-be opponents didn’t want to become dinosaurs dumbly chewing their cuds while a Montpelier meteor heads their way.

Paul D. Keane