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Consolidation

02/27/07 12:00AM By Edith Hunter
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(HOST) Education Commissioner Richard Cate ignited a statewide debate when he suggested that one possible way to address the rising cost of education was to downsize the number of Vermont school districts. It's one of the topics for discussion on VPR's Symposium on the Future of Education in Vermont. It's an idea that this morning's commentator Dick Mallary supports, but it reminds commentator Edith Hunter of a proposal she made concerning school supervision when she was a member of the local school board.

(HUNTER) The idea of reducing the number of Supervisory Unions from the current fifty-one to something smaller, comes up regularly. In the 1960s Gov. Phil Hoff suggested a reduction to twelve, and in 1975, the State Department of Education had a plan for as few as eight. Now the idea has come up again.

My sentiment has been a move in the opposite direction. I would like to see school supervision brought much closer to home.

I served on the Weathersfield school board for six years from 1973-1979. When I was on the school board, Weathersfield, like most Vermont small towns, shared its superintendent - in our case with three other towns. I was told that we were allotted one-fifth of the superintendent's time. He was housed in a "Central Office" in the largest of the four towns.

It soon become evident to me that the "Central Office" had a life of its own. The superintendent had little time to visit us. Most often the flow was in the other direction, with the local principals visiting the Central Office.

After I had been on the board for a year I came up with an idea that I called "The School Manager Plan." My idea was that we should hire a school manager just as the selectmen hire a town manager. This school manager would handle the business and non-academic matters - leaky roofs, busses and so forth.

Under my plan our principal would perform the educational functions of the superintendent - visit the classrooms, work with the teachers, and funnel appropriate educational resources to the staff. Being on the scene, the superintending principal could evaluate the teaching.

I worked hard on my plan, presenting it to the Board, the town, the State Department of Education, and the State Board. When it came up for a vote, my plan was defeated at almost every level.

A Bill was even introduced in the legislature to allow us to withdraw from our supervisory union to conduct such an experiment. The bill passed the Senate thirty to zero, but died in the House.

By some miracle that I don't quite understand, ten years ago, each of the four towns in our Supervisory Union was allowed to have its principal serve as its superintendent, and to share one business manager in the Central Office. This was pretty close to what I had been aiming for. It seems to me to work very well. I think it might serve as a great model for many towns.

The supervisory units should not be made larger, but smaller.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center.

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