Wednesday, June 28, 2017

#ParkTV As I See Things (Two)

This is my blog, my opinion, “As I See Things #ParkTV Two,” so please know I’m sharing my thoughts and you’re welcome to agree or disagree.

I live Rochester, Vt (a small town centered around a beautiful park) in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Its smallness is both a blessing and a curse. Act 46 has been pressuring us to consolidate with other schools through tax incentives and threat of losing grants to save on educational costs all within the muscle of a very tight timeline.

Recently many people from towns across the State pushed back against the legislature to get more time to make decisions (VT Digger Article) and fortunately the deadline has been extended for a few more months. The Department of Education has to approve whatever plan we determine.

More time eases the pressure. Thomas Jefferson would have agreed with allowing more time, for he said, “Delay is preferable to error.”

Vermont (and some other states) have begun to “bleed out” because there are fewer kids these days. It's no secret the cost of education is on the rise. It is obvious there are big problems with rising costs and the fact that our pastoral way of life is in danger. Some folks feel that consolidating our resources is the answer to making things cheaper.

So, the consolidation re vote is in and the answer is NO. We will not merge in that way. Thou shall not pass. In that way.

In short, this means that Rochester will NOT pool resources with two other schools -one, a high school 45 minutes away and the other a middle school 25 minutes away- and become one school district.

That particular version of our future is not happening. Phew.

My take is that this doesn't deplete our resources, but increases them if we shift our way of looking at things.

Our resources include our teachers, the school building, the forest and the kids. I'm going to also suggest that our greatest asset is the town of Rochester itself:

RASTA (trails)
The National Forest Service all around us
Local businesses
Location (Yes… as isolated as it is.)
And of course the TOWNSPEOPLE.

You may be asking, “Now what do we do?”

My answer:
Now the real work starts, imagination kicks in and a certain degree of risk taking needs to occur from here out. But we can handle it. Look at what we’ve handled before. (Hurrican Irene damaged cemetary) Long before the State or the Feds showed up, we were Vermont Strong.

I woke up very early this morning to travel to Georgia for my father’s memorial. The timing of this trip couldn't be better to travel:

  1. It is always good to change environments to gain perspective.
  2. I need to see immediate family so we can grieve our loss together.
  3. There is uninterrupted time while traveling to consider next steps.

Not that I like leaving home, but I am eager to take this trip because it has been an emotional few months for me and I haven't been myself.

Over the course of three days in early April two significant things happened: my town voted to support the school merger plan (surrendering local control) and my father died of bone cancer. It was probably the worst week of my life.

Dad’s death was quick and painful death but the April 11 vote felt like a slow drawn-out one. See this link to catch up if you want to on how it all went down. In summary, one of the other towns we were to merge with voted NO. From then on it became a house of cards and bit by bit, cards were removed from the  State structure.

I will propose a solution here.

Let’s get creative with our options. Yes, I know that the state probably has another trick up its sleeve to try to gain control of us and Act 46 will use fear tactics, tax threats, timelines and tell us we cannot plan anything beyond “Plan B” and merge with Bethel.

This will not will not change any of the previously mentioned things sway my stance.

It's time now for the townspeople -who were not given a chance before to freely share ideas- to discuss thoughts and ideas.

On the train today, a young stranger (a millennial) and I got to talking across the aisle. It started out we were the only two people in the car. We started talking about movies, news media and landed (of course) on politics. The we actually discussed the outcome of the vote on the merger in Rochester. He said, “Anytime a politician says that something they're planning is best for kids, ignore everything they say after that.” This summed up my feelings about what’s been going on in one sentence.

Turns out the Vermonter across the aisle was a very active member of a group pushing for school choice across the state of Vermont. Based on his opinion school choice is best for small rural towns. He (who by the way hails from a different political party than I do) said, “How exciting for your town to keep control of the outcomes. What can I do to help?” He then went on to give me next steps and suggestions and experts to contact on how to move forward and stay strong.

He provided me with a sense of relief about everything this morning. He understood the system and had energy and skills to be be an active part of interacting with it. He worked on recent local elections and has been in the State House advocating for various platforms including anti-Act 46, and this by the way, is where we overlapped. We have been in the same room before, fighting the same battle though we seemed so different at first glance.

As I travel south and place more distance between me and the place I call home, I see clearly that the answer to everyone’s question of “Now what do we do?” is to find what this young man and I found sitting across from one another. Reach out to someone who is across the aisle from you (or the street, or political party, or table, or opinion, or counter) and ask this question: “What can I do to help?”

Sunday, June 18, 2017

#ParkTV As I See Things (One)

Living the way I do —as if I am in a Currier and Ives Christmas card— has been a wonderful experience for fourteen years. 

It has also been challenging. More so now than ever before.

My house overlooks the park in the center of a small town in Vermont along Route 100, not anywhere near a city, a strip mall, or even a suburb for that matter. And I don’t mind. In point of fact, I quite like it.

Here’s why I chose this life:
The town is in the “Heart of the Green Mountains”
Everywhere I look there’s natural beauty
My kids walk to school safely and they know the crossing guard by name (she’s also the Town Clerk)
It’s quiet
Supporting local small businesses is a way of life

I heard a local man say once and I quote, “If you can’t get it here, well then you probably don’t need it.” He’s right. We have everything we need right here (well, except underwear, but that’s another blog for another time.)

This place is my world. Besides living here with my family, I am emotionally invested. I teach here, shop here, play here, read here, write here, volunteer my time here, etc. and this place has been worth my energy. Rochester, VT functions as it has since 1781 without anyone from the outside telling us what to do or utilizing punitive governance against our own best interests, deciding for us.


The way I see it, the state is punishing all rural towns who do not comply with legislation created to protect us from ourselves. Wait. What? Seriously. AND they are masking it to look like they are supporting our rural way of life.

We may be a bit of a distance from the “rest of the world” but we have each other to cling to. It keeps us warm. Plowed. Mowed. Fed. Educated. And most of all, above everything else, we have local control.  

Not anymore.

I’ll come right out and say it: the lifestyle I have chosen in rural Vermont is on life support and I am powerless to save it.

I am powerless to stop what Act 46 has set into motion. I won’t go into what Act 46 is, but feel free to click the link to educate yourself.

Here is a part of the law I can get behind:
“Vermont recognizes the important role that a small school plays in the social and educational fabrics of its community.” Act 46

However, the next sentence continues and I respectfully DISAGREE: “It is not the State’s intent to close its small schools, but rather to ensure that those school have the opportunity to enjoy the expanded educational opportunities and economies of scale that are available to schools within larger, more flexible governance models.” Act 46

Here is my translation:
“We at the state level see how CHARMING it is that you shop at your local hardware store and buy Vermont coffee at your local cafe owned by your neighbors.”

However it goes on to say:
“We do not intend to destroy your small towns, but rather we want you to be able to buy nails and screws at Home Depot or coffee at Starbucks because of the economy of scale that exists when giant box stores can buy things in bulk.”

I’ve been through this before and I have seen how the other side lives. I have taught large groups of children. When I moved to VT from AZ, I went from teaching (rather air-traffic controlling) 30-35 kids to TEACHING 12 kids.

I was the final teacher to teach in a 209 year old two-room schoolhouse In Hancock: (The Story NPR ) when Act 68 forced that closure. And before that, Act 60 was the state’s attempt to solve everyone’s problems for them.

Frankly, our legislature has forced our beautiful state into hospice care. The “Study Committee” that was formed by our school district under the state’s direction and guidance is acting as palliative care for the townspeople.

My town that has managed to maintain its quintessential, pastoral and independent way of life is now being coerced and punished for being quintessential, pastoral and independent. I predict that in time we will be like every other city, suburb, strip mall and so forth because it is cheaper.  

I am voting NO on Tuesday for the School Merger and I stand on my platform of knowledge and experience and openly share with you. Is our way of life worth it? We need other options besides Model One but most importantly, WE need to decide. Not the WRVSU (Supervisory Union) or the legislature.

US. The people of Rochester

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