Black River Area Innovative Network, BRAIN, is a grassroots organization of citizens, alumni, grandparents, business owners, parents, teachers, support staff, students, and taxpayers from both Mount Holly and Ludlow who have been meeting for the past several weeks. Initially a few of us came together in order to promote a NO vote because we wanted more time to figure out a possible solution rather than close our school. Our “mission” has evolved into working on 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. “We believe our children deserve to have the opportunity to be educated in our community” has become our mantra.
At our first meeting, we had over 40 people in attendance, and broke into 3 committees: Legislative, Outreach, and Innovations.
Our legislative committee immediately began work on crafting a letter to Montpelier and members began to attend meetings where Act 46 legislation was being discussed. They have been very active and reaching out to some of the 100+ towns that have not fit into Act 46’s merger plan. Our state legislators are hearing what we have to say and since our initial letter, there have been deadlines extended and modifications made to Act 46 law.
The innovations committee began to work on ideas as to how we could improve, be more innovative, as well as what we already do well. We came up with multiple large sheets that we brainstormed necessary efficiencies 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 we are to be educating our children. There was a lot of time spent on what other structures could be considered by the new Act 46 committee if there is a no vote.
The outreach committee worked on ways to educate the community and how to promote considering other ways to meet our educational goals in Ludlow and Mount Holly. 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.
Our group has met consistently for about 5 weeks, voluntarily, and with no charge by anyone with authority. We consolidated our ideas from the innovations committee (and with input from our other 2 committees) down to 4 considerations for the new Act 46 committee to consider. They all have value as well as some concerns. We recognize that we are not the final decision makers. We wanted to propose ideas that would give voters pause when voting. If nothing else, at least we should all be realizing that there are other options worth considering, and closing a nearly 200 year school should be the LAST option, certainly not the first one put forward. We hope that IF there is a no vote, the new Act 46 committee will consider these structures.
We KNOW the first Act 46 committee did extensive work, however that group had to make decisions when there were many what ifs, some of which still exist. A lot of the pressure to be fast has eased a bit, as deadlines have been extended. We also feel that the new Act 46 committee should be expanded to include more stakeholders. There has been a lot of talk about the fact that the Act 46 committee spent over 18 months on this already. Actually it seems as if the committee spent 16 of the 18 months working with the Chester/Andover/Baltimore/Cavendish committee members on a plan that failed. The Mill River merger plan was not given nearly as much attention and time. It seemed to come upon us quickly and there appears to be unsettling urgency to get it passed.
Our 4 alternative structures will obviously need more work, specifically budget work, tax work, and community input before another vote is put to the communities. We simply did not have the resources. Here are the 4 structures we discussed:
- Restructuring PK-12 (possibly merge with Quarry Valley) to promote financial and staffing efficiencies. This would allow for us to incorporate other ideas which were brought out from the Innovations Committee’s work. This would be fairly quick and easy to implement. Not sure if we could lower our tax structure to more align with their district or not. Certainly worth investigating.
- 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 be a draw for families to move here. Allows for more flexibility in staffing, ability to offer non-traditional programming, no state assessments, attract young families possibly. We would need to create an endowment, unclear of tax structure.
- Black River 2.0 - mostly status quo but adding in 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.
- Independent 7-12, (possibly called Black River Academy) with 2 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, would require an endowment, tax structure unknown. Maintain 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 to consider. 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! We should not be rushing into something that has such a dramatic effect on 2 communities and close a nearly 200 year historical school.
Black River Area Innovative Network