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Vision for future  of ConVal needed

With the education of our community’s children hanging in the balance, we’re hoping Wednesday’s Deliberative Session for the ConVal School District will be an opportunity to clear the air. We know enrollment in the district is down, and we know critical programs, such as arts enrichment and full-day kindergarten, cost money. What we don’t know is how administrators are planning to deal long-term with a shrinking student population. The Deliberative Session is expected to draw quite a turnout, and many of those in attendance are likely to be hearing details of the budget directly for the first time. It should be an ideal opportunity for the ConVal administration and School Board to lay out their vision for the future.

What the public wants to know is what efficiencies are being made at the administrative level to save the district money, and what measures are being taken to align employment levels with current and projected student enrollment. Knowing the district’s plan will improve voter confidence in the administration and the School Board with regard to transparency. Without a full understanding of the long-range vision for the district, it’s tempting for skeptical voters to imagine the worst: that the administration has no plans to tighten its belt and is instead willing to sacrifice critical programs in order to make the budget numbers work. That is the fastest way to alienate the community.

The School Board and the ConVal administration will be asking a lot of voters on Wednesday and beyond. They’re not only looking for approval of a significantly larger proposed budget; they are also asking for a considerable boost in powers. The Board is proposing an amendment to the Articles of Agreement that would give it authority to close schools as it sees fit, albeit after a long public process and with a 2/3 majority of the board required. The proposed amendment would eliminate the guarantee that each town except Sharon would have its own elementary school, and maybe voters will be willing to accept that. But the proposal falls short of what’s really needed: again, a clear and sustainable plan for the district’s future.

The danger is that the support the district has enjoyed year after year could go away if a disaffected group decides to let the pendulum swing the other way. This would mean large cuts without any guiding objective beyond lower taxes. We know this isn’t in the best interest of the district, ConVal’s towns or its students. It would be a shame to allow broad cuts to happen just because voters don’t have a clear alternative.

There’s still time to bring voters into the know about the district’s behind-the-scenes struggles to forge a path for the future. There’s no argument that times are tough. Local businesses feel it, employees feel it and families feel it. And our school districts are no different.

But it’s time the ConVal School District articulates a sustainable plan for the future, one that the community can begin to work toward today.

ConVal is nine towns strong, with a reputation for excellence and employee satisfaction. We owe it not only to the children, but also to every staff member, to maintain the quality for which ConVal is known, and to do that we need to know the way forward.

Hopefully, the path becomes more clear at the Deliberative Session, and voters can once again get behind their district.

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