by Rob Roper
Speaking to the House Education Committee in what one legislator described as an “exit interview,” outgoing Secretary of Education, Armando Vilaseca, called for a legislative “hammer” to enforce school district consolidation.
To quote an article from Vermont Digger, “What was missing [from Act 153, the law encouraging voluntary school district consolidation],” Vilaseca said, “was an end. So after seven or eight years if the districts haven’t joined together, then the state will come in.” [Emphasis Added]
Representative Peter Peltz (D-Woodbury), the principle architect of Act 153, egged the Secretary on, telling him he was free to “let his hair down.” Again quoting Digger, “Peltz said. ‘Are you advocating that we take a bull by the horn and do it legislatively?’” So, it’s pretty clear where the education committee is heading with this come January — new legislation authorizing the forced consolidation of school districts.
Vilaseca’s comments are entirely contrary to his statements throughout the past year as North Bennington fought to close its public elementary school and open an independent school in its place. The main reason the community decided on this course of action was for fear of future forced consolidation of the state that would lead to the closing of the local school.
Matthew Patterson, who sits on the North Bennington Prudential Committee (school board) testified before the State Board of Education presciently on January 15, 2013, “They’re talking about consolidating supervisory unions. They’re talking about consolidating huge amounts of schools “voluntarily.” What happens when that isn’t working? All it takes is some legislative changes to start pulling schools. And which ones is it going to be? Smaller schools.” (See the EAI VIDEO)
At the time, Vilaseca members of the state board derided Patterson and the people of North Bennington saying their concerns, “…were either unfounded or blown way out of proportion,” said Vilaseca. “Any consolidation is voluntary,” said Stephan Morse, chairman of the state Board of Education.” (Burlington Free Press, 9/15/13)
Turns out Patterson and his fellow towns people were absolutely on the mark. Vilaseca and Morse, it turns out, were being about as honest as President Obama when he said if you like your insurance policy you can keep it. What they really meant to say was consolidation is voluntary, unless you don’t do what we want. If you don’t do what we want, we break out the hammers.
– Rob Roper, president of the Ethan Allen Institute