Kelly Pajala: The challenge of change on Town Meeting Day

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Town Meeting day is fast approaching. As a Town Clerk it is a day that looms large at this time of year. It is full of time-honored traditions: heated conversations over recycling and trash disposal, budget battles, the parliamentarian who asks for nominations to be closed and have the clerk cast one ballot, seeing friends and neighbors eating a meal together. It is the best example of representative Democracy that I am aware of and as a part of our shared culture it is something to be proud of.

Town meeting is also when communities grapple with the challenge of change. Whether it is a question of budgeting for public safety, providing opportunities for pre-K, or participating in your town's last school board annual meeting; the first Tuesday in March often marks the beginning of change. Change, as we all know, is never easy because we just don't know what the future holds. However, as one of my co-workers often reminds me, change is the only constant in life. How we navigate that challenge as a community is what makes or breaks us.

Let us all strive for the former. Easier said than done at times.

The two most striking examples of the changes facing our community as we approach this Town Meeting Day are the Taconic and Green pre-K policy and Springfield Medical Care Systems recent circumstances. In both cases, the number of unknowns are still great and the answers to questions have not yet been formulated. So, as a community, we wait and (hopefully) trust those who are working on our behalf to get us answers.

We do not know how many kids will apply for the limited pre-K slots at Manchester Elementary and Middle School and we do not have a plan for providing the same number of pre-K hours uniformly across the T&G district. We don't know how changes to pre-K will affect the availability of childcare across the district. If equal access to pre-K in the T&G district is the goal, change is necessary.

The bulk of this week in the House Human Services Committee we are looking at the childcare challenge, which includes the following: H. 60 - An act relating to making the Agency of Human Services' Department for Children and Families responsible for the oversight and regulation of child care and pre-kindergarten education for children 0 years of age through the age when they are enrolled in kindergarten, H. 70 - An act relating to compliance with child care providers' educational and experiential requirements, H. 122 - An act relating to reapportioning the distribution of benefits within the Child Care Financial Assistance Program, H. 194 - An act relating to establishing incentives for early learning professionals and improving access to child care, H. 349 - An act relating to raising revenue to improve access to affordable, high quality child care and early learning, H. 373 - An act relating to creating an employee surcharge to pay for child care subsidies.

I continue to believe that pre-K and childcare are part of the same formula and attempting to solve that equation without looking at both factors is counterproductive.

Springfield Medical Care Systems has made some changes in an effort to keep quality health care in our communities. Again, necessary changes.

For months the focus of the conversations around SMCS was about the hospital, but the focus has shifted to include the larger network of health clinics in the surrounding area. While I am grateful for that attention, I would like to call people to action in support of rural primary care clinics. The larger questions around how SMCS will structure and staff the network of clinics it operates are being worked on by a competent, hard-working group of people.

While they deal with that charge, let those of us in the community throw our support behind the clinics and their staff members. If you know someone who works within the SMCS, let them know how much you appreciate the work they do, continue to use the clinics for primary care needs. The community needs access to quality health care and the healthcare system needs a strong community. In the face of change, choose to rise to the challenges ahead.

Kelly Pajala is an independent representing Windham, Bennington and Windsor in the House of Representatives.


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