To the editor: Citizen group wants more time for BRHS ideas

Black River Area Innovative Network, BRAIN, is a grassroots organization of people from both Mount Holly and Ludlow who have been meeting for the past several weeks.

Initially a few of us came together to promote a NO vote. We wanted more time to figure out a possible solution rather than closing our school.  Our “mission” has evolved to finding ways to educate children in our community while being fiscally responsible and increasing, or at least not losing, educational opportunities.

We have also been working hard on informing the state legislators of our predicament and the fact that their law could force our school to close.  “Our children deserve to have the opportunity to be educated in our community” has become our mantra.

At our first meeting, we had more than 40 people in attendance, and broke into 3 committees:  Legislative, Outreach, and Innovations.

Our legislative committee crafted a letter to Montpelier and members attended meetings where Act 46 legislation was being discussed.  They have been very active, reaching out to some of the 100+ towns that don’t fit into Act 46’s merger plan. Our state legislators are hearing what we have to say. Since our initial letter, deadlines have been extended and modifications made to Act 46.

The innovations committee worked on ideas to improve, be more innovative and keep what we already do well.  We came up with several large sheets with efficiencies we brainstormed as well as what we offer now and how we could expand on that.  The lists were long and many of the people contributing to them were educators, students, and parents.  Education is changing and we should be looking forward when we discuss how  to educate our children.  A lot of time was spent on other structures to be considered by the new Act 46 committee if there’s a no vote.

The outreach committee worked on ways to educate the community and promote consideration of other ways to meet our educational goals.  Our total membership grew to over 60 members, with people coming and going when they could, based on busy schedules this time of the year.  We have been writing letters to the editor, sending mailers to both communities, and the press has been very interested and giving us a fair amount of coverage.

BRAIN has met for five weeks with no direction from any authority.  We consolidated our ideas into four options for a new Act 46 committee to consider.  They all have value as well as some concerns.  But we don’t make the final decisions.  We are proposing ideas to give voters pause when voting.  We recognize that there are other options worth considering. Closing a school that’s nearly 200 years old should be the LAST option,  not the first.  If there is a no vote, we hope the new Act 46 committee will consider these structures.

The first Act 46 committee did extensive work but had to make decisions based on “what ifs,” some of which still exist.  A lot of the pressure to decide quickly has eased, as deadlines have been extended.  And we feel that the new Act 46 committee should include more stakeholders.  While the Act 46 committee worked for more than 18 months, the Mill River merger plan was only considered in that last two months. That’s not nearly as much attention or time.  It seemed to come up on us quickly and there’s an unsettling urgency to get it passed.

Our four alternative structures will obviously need more work, specifically budget and tax work, and community input before another vote. We simply did not have the resources.  Here are the four structures we discussed:

  1. Restructuring PK-12 (possibly merge with Quarry Valley) to promote financial and staffing efficiencies.  This would allow us to incorporate other ideas which were brought out by the Innovations Committee.  This would be fairly quick and easy to implement.  Not sure we could lower our tax rates to align with their district.  Certainly worth investigating.
  2. Independent PK-12, which removes us from Act 46 legislation and keeps all educational decisions local.  Find a niche in our programming/curriculum which would draw for families to move here.  Allows for staffing flexibility, ability to offer non-traditional programming and no state assessments.  We would need to create an endowment and the tax structure is unclear.
  3. Black River 2.0 – mostly status quo but adding some niche to our middle and high school curriculum that would be attractive to students and parents.  This would create the smallest upheaval, but potentially the biggest shift in our educational system.
  4. Independent 7-12, (possibly called Black River Academy) with two public elementary schools.  Mt. Holly and Ludlow could then offer choice for 7-12.  Choice could be limited to GM, MR, and BRA.  This would be the most dramatic shift, requiring an endowment, and an unknown tax structure.  Maintains our elementary schools.  Join other like district that offers choice to their 7-12 students.

It is our sincere hope that voters consider that there are other options.  With the right mix of people at the table of the new Act 46 committee, we believe there is a plan that exists in order to be the best educational system in our area and we can do it while being fiscally responsible.  Our kids are worth the time and effort!  Let’s not rush into something that has such a dramatic effect on two communities and close an historic school that’s nearly 200 years old.

Black River Area Innovative Network

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