Commentary
10:54 am
Tue July 1, 2014

Vogel: Consolidation Customer

Chiseled on a three ton rock at the entrance of all four Stew Leonard supermarkets in Connecticut and New York are two rules about how employees should treat their customers.

"RULE NUMBER 1: THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT!

RULE NUMBER 2: IF THE CUSTOMER IS WRONG, SEE RULE NUMBER 1."

According to the Guinness Book of World Records this legendary retailer holds the record for the greatest sales per square foot of any single food store in the United States. So in considering the debate about consolidating school districts in Vermont, I think the State Legislature might want to take a page from Stew Leonard’s book and treat the citizens of Vermont as valued customers.

Our taxes pay for the schools. Our children go to the schools. And all of us are affected by the public school system and its graduates. We are the customers.

It follows that rather than deciding what’s best for us, why not let us decide. The legislature could be helpful by creating a good process to ensure that we receive two critical pieces of information. One, what would consolidation look like in our particular school district? And two, what are the cost implications of consolidation over the short and medium term for people living in our community. This information would need to be objective and trustworthy.

As this debate unfolds, m any of us will seek out additional information from experts, and weigh the advantages of smaller schools against the advantages that consolidated schools offer, such as more choices. Citizens in some school districts may favor consolidation, while people in other districts might vote not to consolidate. And just maybe the best plan for Vermont is a hybrid.

In attracting top applicants to teach and study, The Tuck School of Business, where I work, faces a similar issue. We’re a small business school in a small town competing against large business schools in major cities. To do so successfully , we must both emphasize the benefits of being part of our tight knit community and make sure that those claims are real. I believe that this competition sharpens our focus and helps us attract the right students.

If the Vermont legislature can create a process that promotes genuine, informed debate between proponents of smaller schools and proponents of consolidated schools, I firmly believe that voters will be able to make the right choice for their particular school district. And in the process, we just might uncover ideas that enhance the quality of education throughout Vermont.

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