Lawmakers weigh school costs, public interest

WHITING — In a discussion of public education reforms at Monday’s Legislative Breakfast in Whiting, Rep. Willem Jewett said the House Education Committee has been considering initiatives aimed at making public schools more efficient and affordable.
The Ripton Democrat said the committee has noted that Vermont’s public education system is top-heavy with administration, thus adding to costs. And many Vermont superintendents have to spread themselves thin, given the number of rural school districts (each with a board of directors) to which the superintendent must be accountable. That results in quick burnout, Jewett said, which has created 16 superintendent vacancies (of a total of 64) in Vermont so far this year.
“The number of students continues to decline,” Jewett added. “How do we provide quality of education going forward?”
Lawmakers continue to explore the idea of reducing the number of supervisory unions in Vermont (and therefore the number of school administrators), but several participants at Monday’s breakfast said they weren’t keen on consolidating education governance or closing schools.
“One of the things you have to remember is the connection people have with their schools,” Middlebury resident Steve Gross said. He said most urban areas have lost that connection.
Whiting School Board member Carol Brigham agreed. Her daughter, Amanda, was the plaintiff in a lawsuit that led to the creation of Act 60, the state’s education finance law, 17 years ago. She said her daughter, now an adult, has moved to Philadelphia.
“The slowness and thoughtfulness is important,” she said of local school bureaucracies.
“The conversation is big,” she added of the topic of education consolidation. “It’s a conversation that can’t only happen in Montpelier.”
Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent John Castle was at Monday’s meeting. He said that while the current education bureaucracy means more work for him, he is not a fan of consolidation.
“We are the model and envy of the rest of the country,” he said of the current system.
“Centralized bureaucracies tend to grow over time,” he added. “We have a challenging model, but a healthy model.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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