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Adrian: School Wars

There’s been an awakening.  Have you felt it?  In the last days of the 2014 election season fifteen Democratic legislators proclaimed that they had finally seen the light and planned to work on real property tax reform during the 2015 legislative session.  Property tax reform is just a code word for school spending reform. 

Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith along with former state officials and politicians, recently released a report recommending in whole or in part that school spending be restructured and tightened; that income taxes replace property taxes as the primary funding method; and that the State, not municipalities be responsible for raising all education funds.  Speaker Smith is now soliciting Vermonters to submit funding plans with the objective of making schools “sustainable and affordable” or equitable and cost-conscious. 

Equitable means that students, their families and the community at large will benefit both tangibly and intangibly.  Tangibly from the stabilization of their taxes and intangibly from a continued, quality education delivered to all Vermont students.   All employees of the public schools will be treated fairly and commensurate with how other professionals in Vermont are compensated.

Cost-consciousness entails providing the maximum educational and social services legally and ethically required, to the student population, while also factoring in the economic realities of the nation’s second smallest state.  Smallness gives us unprecedented flexibility, but also means that flexibility is constrained by a limited economic base.

To say our education system cannot move forward without continually imposing substantial tax increases is to create a false dichotomy.  Small tax increases can be levied to move education programs forward in order to benefit the students.  At the same time education professionals should not expect unsustainable automatic salary increases and continue paying proportionally small health care premium contributions for top-shelf health care plans. 

Instead of the 41 separate school districts in a state of less then 650 thousand, we should have one central school district, administered by the State.  This centralized district would fix costs and determine any necessary cost of living adjustments based on regional differences.

The Vermont NEA, representing 12,000 education employees, should understand that we no longer live in the early 20th Century where a union was necessary to protect a poorly compensated workforce.  Labor laws that didn’t exist a century ago, now protect employees.  The Vermont NEA in its current construction is an anachronistic impediment to long-term, necessary change in our education system. 

Over the past decade, the middle-class of Vermont has felt the dark side of the educational debate.  Now it’s time to see the light.