Education Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Radical changes needed to restore public education

I recently had the privilege of a briefing by a very senior official re: the challenges facing Vermont’s public school system. They form a dark cloud. Three forces are at work: (1) the accumulation of tasks assigned to schools but historically performed by parents, families, churchs, scout troops, etc.; (2) soaring costs dependent upon an impenetrable tax/financing system and (3) a steadily declining student population.

How did this happen? Over the past 40-50 years Vermonters — by and large — with noble intentions — by and large — have laden perhaps our most critical public service with the following undoable tasks: common-sense-defying policies and rules; the aforementioned financing structure and, last but not least, an authority structure virtually guaranteeing precious little transparency and next-to-no accountability.

Looking down from 30,000 feet the picture is clear. Simply put, Vermont has champagne tastes with a beer income.

The elected officials and administrators nominally responsible attempt to function. They continue to either (a) seek yet more “kick-the-can-down-road” mitigation devices or (b) ominously warn of “radical” changes (e.g. school closings/consolidation) having to be made. 

The truth: radical changes are inescapable, folks. Upsetting? You bet. Hard choices? Certainly. But unless you really like this current mess, necessary. Now it’s time for courageous leadership. (Note to elected officials. This is the kind of leadership that really counts and may even cost you your office.) But it better get done. 

Let’s step back and identify in plain language just what radical changes would make a lasting difference and what the consequences would be. Let the howling winds of indignation blow but hunker down and weather that storm. Then make the choices and restore public education to the pedestal it deserves.

Bruce Hiland


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