Editor’s note: This commentary is by Randall Szott, the spokesperson for the Alliance of School Board Members. He a writer, educator and chef who lives in Barnard.
Geo Honigford and the VSBA issued a truly disheartening response to the recent press release announcing the formation of the Alliance of Vermont School Board Members. It was disappointing, but did confirm how out of touch the VSBA is with its membership and with basic tenets of education and democracy.
They open by characterizing the AVSBM’s role as being “to provide school board members with an alternative voice on public policy matters.” However, the AVSBM will exist to provide an actual voice because it is being formed as a grassroots organization rather than employing the top-down methods of the VSBA. The VSBA’s response provides a link to their bylaws which confirms their tone-deaf reading of the anger and mistrust they have generated. They, like many Act 46 merger committees around the state, have a fundamental misunderstanding of what democratic community engagement entails. Their proceduralism is an empty gesture – posting notices, forming committees and subcommittees, electing officers and delegates, and introducing resolutions are all fine, but they are lifeless signifiers of democratic governance without a felt commitment by stakeholders. It is akin to saying that having land and a tractor makes you a farmer while providing no account of the actual stewardship of the land or living things on it.
This approach only exacerbates inequality; it is the problem, not the solution.
As to the alleged “progressive agenda” of the VSBA, Honigford links to a document titled “Agenda for a World Class Education” which has little to do with anything progressive. Just as Honigford and the VSBA have recently made clear with op-eds and media appearances, the document openly expresses hostility toward collective bargaining using the same stale rhetoric that corporations use to keep tighter control of their workers. Even more telling is that the document was produced in collaboration with the Vermont Superintendents Association, proving once again the need for the AVSBM to be an independent voice for Vermont’s school boards rather than an organization that conspires with the Agency of Education and the VSA to implement their decidedly non-progressive educational policies. The “Agenda for a World Class Education” reads like a rehash of data, technology, accountability and testing-driven policies that have failed throughout the country and are intended not to produce robust, critical citizens, but to train compliant workers for a global economic system. This approach only exacerbates inequality; it is the problem, not the solution.
Honigford’s boilerplate closing is particularly sad because it shows no self-reflection, saying, apparently without irony, that “that there is strength in working together.” Unfortunately, the VSBA is “working together” with the AOE and the VSA to eliminate the people they ought to be working with and for: local school boards. Their advocacy for school consolidation is a primary motivation for the formation of the AVSBM, and is also a direct violation of their purported mission of “…supporting all school boards to serve as effective trustees for education on behalf of their communities…” It takes some nerve to advocate for eradicating school boards and small schools throughout Vermont while making such a claim. What further evidence does anyone need that the Vermont SBA has abandoned its mission, and that Vermonters who truly care about Vermont schools and what makes them special for students and their communities should band together to provide the leadership that the VSBA only provides lip service for?