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?”

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