Editorial: Specious arguments detract from consolidation debate

On the issue of school consolidation, let’s forthrightly address at least one specious argument used by school officials, board members and others who suggest that the closing of small schools won’t harm those communities.

The argument area school boards have put forward maintains three lines of thinking: first, that the cost of educating students in these small towns is excessive; second, that small schools are not able to offer the academic scope and quality of larger schools; third, that small communities aren’t diminished when their elementary school closes.

Of that third line of thinking, the argument continues that the measure of a small town is not that it has, or doesn’t have, an elementary school, but whether the education available elsewhere within the district suffices and even excels that which could be provided in a smaller school setting. To feel good about such arguments, these district board members have suggested that towns need to redefine themselves as entities that can be just as vibrant without the communal centers that schools have long provided.

We acknowledge this argument is plausible, but is it genuine? We think not.

A story in today’s paper about several Lincoln families that have recently moved into the community with young kids, or have plans to, gives voice to the very real argument that the elementary schools in these small towns are a primary reason to move and live there.

Molly McEachan and Kevin Ready both grew up in the 5-Town area. McEachen went to Bristol Elementary, where Ready finished his grade school years after attending Lincoln Community School through fourth grade. They built a house in Lincoln last year, and their daughter was born this past June.

“We had always planned to raise our family in Lincoln in large part because of the small, close-knit community which is fostered by the Lincoln Community School,” McEachen wrote in an email to the Independent, “because we see firsthand the vital role the elementary school plays in our lives and the community.”

Another LCS alum, Isabelle Clark, and her husband, Rob Blum, have a 14-month-old and are planning to build a house on the corner of Clark’s parents’ land in Lincoln and move there in 2022. Said Clark: “LCS has always been a very important part of why we want to be in Lincoln, and now that we have our son, we feel an even stronger pull to be in the area. LCS provided me with a sense of belonging, safety and security. I felt seen and heard every day. I was able to navigate the ups and downs of childhood in the context of a supportive and loving school community.... I am returning to this place so that my children can have this same opportunity.”

Take LCS out of the picture, say these young families, and they doubt if they would move there or stay. It’s critically important that school officials recognize their thinking and the economic loss that could mean to the county.

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Understanding the desire of such young families doesn’t negate the argument on cost, but it also dulls the somewhat specious argument of academic quality being better in a larger school. Certainly, when listening to young adults who attended small schools and want the same experience for their children, such evidence suggests the learning at small schools is not a concern. Furthermore, let’s be real and acknowledge there is no doubt small towns are diminished by the absence of an elementary school.

Cost, then, is the crucial factor for consolidation. That is to be balanced by the negative changes to the small towns whose schools would be closed or repurposed, and the gradual decay those towns would likely see. School board members need to vocalize that those are real costs to our larger community.

What’s also seems to be missing is the desire to find a solution that works for everyone. If small towns want to split from the district and go on their own, let’s try to make that work in a way that is helpful, not punitive. If we can at least try to act in that spirit, we’ll cause a lot less animosity among neighboring towns, and the county (economically and socially) will be stronger for it.

 Angelo Lynn

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