Another Opinion, Editorial

Mountain View Union Elementary School District: A Time to Consider Divorce

When Woodbury, Hardwick and Lakeview Elementary Schools were merged it was a shotgun wedding. It was a marriage that was ordered by an 11-member State Board of Education, the majority of whom had never been to Greensboro and probably didn’t even know where Stannard was. In fact, in the board’s final order directing the merger the board did not give one single reason for doing so, even though the law that authorized them to merge school districts required a finding that forced mergers must be found to be “necessary.”

The State Board of Education said merged districts should “find a new definition of ‘us’.” But shotgun weddings don’t last. And, for better or worse, most human beings are driven by what they perceive to be their self-interest. Communities of people are the same. And, unfortunately, for better or worse, there is a growing consensus that this marriage wasn’t in anybody’s self-interest.

Despite an overwhelming vote by the citizens in the new merged Mountain View Union district indicating that a large majority want Greensboro’s Lakeview Elementary School to stay open, it is becoming clear that there is less and less likelihood of that happening if we continue down our current path.

The uncertainty and talk of closing Lakeview have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Staff at Lakeview are understandably afraid of not having a job. Hardwick now has three members from the same family on the Mountain View Board. Two of those members have made it clear they want Lakeview closed. A straw vote at the Hardwick Town Meeting indicated that Hardwick residents would like to get out of the merged district. The refusal to seat Simon Cohen, the representative on the board from Stannard, when the board had the power to seat him, was another ominous sign.

At last week’s meeting of the merged Mountain View Board there was no discussion of sending buses in two directions. There was no discussion of leveraging the local assets of Greensboro like Caspian Lake, Craftsbury Outdoor Center and the Highland Center for the Arts to bring more students to Lakeview. There was no discussion of a commitment to a single district with three campuses where teaching staff were shared. There was no discussion of what happens to a town’s tax base or its ability to attract young families with children if a town loses its elementary school. There was no discussion about the consequences of putting young children on longer bus rides.

The discussion at last week’s meeting centered around what to do if the staff that has left Lakeview can’t be replaced by May 20.

Slowly shutting down Lakeview and putting our elementary school students on a bus to Hardwick is not the answer. Genuine leadership that could set aside perceived self-interest might have taken us to a better place, but divorce is a better alternative than where we seem to be going.

The State Board of Education married our four towns with a stroke of the pen and with no explanation. Getting divorced will not be that easy. The law makes dissolving union school districts torturous, but we need to have that discussion before we do lasting damage to our children.

It will be difficult.

We will need the wise counsel of someone like John Castle who has enormous experience with rural education and the respect of everyone in the education community. We will also need strong support from our central office and their staff.

Finally, and most of all, if we are going to navigate these waters in the best interests of our elementary school students, we will need a board that has the wherewithal to set aside self interest and to act in the best interests of all our children for at least the coming year. If there is indeed a time to every purpose under Heaven, then for the sake of our children, if nothing else, let’s hope this is a time for leadership on the Mountain View Union Elementary School District Board. And let’s hope they can demonstrate more wisdom than the State Board of Education did when they brought us to the altar.

David Kelley lives in Greensboro, is a member of the Hazen Union School Board and on the board of Northeast Kingdom Public Journalism, publisher of The Hardwick Gazette.

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