Letter to the editor: Community engagement is vital
School budget votes in recent years have tended to split voters almost evenly in half. The two sides are familiar to all of us — the adoring parents who want everything for their kids versus empty nesters who have neither the need nor desire to stomach double-digit tax increases.
The Ferrisburgh and Addison votes to retain their local schools did not follow this typical pattern. Voters without kids in school voted overwhelmingly to retain their local elementary schools. School and community leaders need to understand what the voters are saying and take the necessary steps to give them what they want.
Lesson No. 1 – Our schools are the heart of our communities. They are perceived as community centers and they need to serve a broader range of community needs. Let’s use our excess school space for child care, senior programs and adult education and other ways to bring community members together.
Lesson No. 2 – Closing schools doesn’t address “the problem.” There are wide-ranging opinions about what the “problem” is. We hear the problem is Montpelier and Act 60, Act 46, and excessive mandates. We hear the problem is health care costs, automatic raises that exceed inflation and special education. We hear the problem is the teacher’s union, the school board, and the administration…and anyone and everyone that is seen contributing to growing property tax rates. Underneath it all, the problem is declining enrollments and the perverse impacts of the school funding formula. And that problem we must tackle like the future of our community depends upon it — because it does.
Lesson No. 3 – When it matters most our communities engage – Sometimes it feels like civic engagement and volunteerism are declining, even dying. Witness vacant or uncontested positions in local government and lighter turnout at many annual town meetings. But let’s not think for a moment that folks aren’t watching or caring when it comes to the core institutions and values that support a strong and vibrant community. Let’s harness the surge of engagement we’ve witnessed and create opportunities for folks to contribute to creating a future right here to believe in.