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Kunin: Consolidation and Community

It doesn’t seem to make sense that the small state of Vermont should have 255 school districts, each with their own school boards and superintendents. But efficiency isn’t all that counts in the minds of many Vermonters. I found that out when I was Governor and appointed a high level commission of business people to tour the state and hold hearings on school district consolidation. When a hearing was held in St. Johnsbury, the chairman later told me that the mood was so hostile that he wanted to stay in the Men’s Room or crawl out the window.

Have times changed? Somewhat, may be the answer. A consolidation bill passed the House by a vote of... but ran into delays in the Senate. The bill called for voluntary consolidation into approximately 45 to 50 districts. The expanded districts would have one school board elected by the district, with one superintendent, business manager and curriculum director. The key word is “One” instead of “Many.”
It seems logical that the plan would reduce bureaucracy, provide students with more courses, and possibly save money. The arguments against school consolidation are not as clear, but they remain powerful. I received a taste of that side of the argument recently when I spoke at the Cabot High School commencement , with an enrollment of 187 students, Kindergarten to 12 th grade. There were 17 graduates. That same morning I had attended the graduation of my grandson from South Burlington High School, with some 200 graduates. Both celebrations took about the same length of time, because at the Cabot school, the principal read a long paragraph about where each student was going after graduation. The valedictorian was going to Smith, another student to Brown, one into the Navy, several to UVM and Vermont Technical College, one to a culinary school, and one was going to work on the family farm.
Now many South Burlington graduates were going off to college too, but there were too many for personal announcements. Community pride was evident in both places, but the intensity of that pride was palpable in Cabot. The citizens had voted last year whether to close the high school. The vote was 333 to 149 to keep it open. A community service award was on the program - it was not given to a student as I had expected - but to the local Fire Chief.
Yes, change is inevitable and Cabot students deserve the same opportunities offered to South Burlington students, which consolidation would provide, but the process must be sensitive to the illogical but passionate pride Vermonters have in their own schools.