My town merged schools with a neighboring town about six years ago, and it’s been a great success. Newfane and Brookline have had a history of shared services since 1948, when the NewBrook Volunteer Fire Department was established.
Today, with about one hundred and thirty students, NewBrook Elementary is a thriving hive of learning. Under Act 46, we’re assured that this will remain so. We’re told the changes will mostly be a matter of streamlining the administration, making it easier to share resources and take advantage of economies of scale.
All the school administrators I’ve talked to regard district consolidation as a good thing. Windham Central Supervisory Union serves ten towns scattered across three hundred and sixty five square miles, and oversees seven elementary schools and a union high school. Under Act 46, the eight school boards will become one. In terms of human capital alone, that offers a huge savings.
Administrators also promote the benefits Act 46 will bring in terms of educational equity. Larger districts can offer more learning opportunities to more students. Stephan Morse, Chair of the State Board of Education, insists that Act 46 "is all about providing equitable education,” and considers it successful even without the savings that taxpayers were led to expect. But the taxpayers I’ve spoken with are upset about the lack of savings and the loss of local control.
This concerns me too. The school is one of the last significant community efforts we have in town - the closest thing to a community center we have left. And educating our kids is our most important civic duty. So I was dismayed when only twenty-six voters turned out to pass our most recent school budget of more than two million dollars. Even fewer showed up for the informational meeting about Act 46 the week before. So while the cry of “local control” tugs at my heart, I’m not sure I believe it.
Furthermore, I’m concerned that Act 46, though certainly complex, doesn’t really reflect the ways schools have changed. We’re no longer an agrarian society, but schools still follow the agricultural calendar. School is also where children are provided with access to essential services, like nutrition and counseling. And I’m left wondering if, instead of consolidation, we need an entirely new vision of public education.