Opinion: Sharpe right on ed. finance reform

Three cheers for Rep. David Sharpe of Bristol, chairman of the House Education Committee, whose admirable article may have been overlooked, buried as it was on page 7A of the Feb. 5 issue of the Addison Independent. He argues cogently that “to keep school costs down even while having fewer students we will need to create larger school districts” to achieve efficiencies, improve outcomes and relieve pressures on property taxes. Would you, he asks all of us, design an educational system for Vermont’s now only 90,000 students administered by 305 school districts run by over 1,400 school board members, or would you choose a more efficient structure?
That in essence is the concern of recent letters which Andy Kirkaldy tried to dismiss in his column making the case that most everybody pays school taxes. Of course they do — although the very fact that school reform is so hard to achieve underscores that many are not too concerned about it and like things the way they are.
By implying that people who call for ingoing reform of our school systems are just bellyaching over high property taxes, Kirkaldy distorts the main issues — which Rep. Sharpe nails admirably: that, with a declining student population, our highly expensive system is unsustainable, particularly since results compared on an equivalent population basis nationally are not outstanding. (It would be useful for this paper to reprint Vermont economist Art Wolf’s trenchant analysis of this disturbing last point, which appeared in the Vermont Digger of April 14, 2014.)
Our governor has underscored these issues in his budget message but rather adroitly left it to the Legislature to figure out next steps. Rep. Sharpe clearly understands the problem. We should all get behind him.
George Jaeger
New Haven

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