Published in News and Citizen 1-7-16

Introducing News & Citizen’s new look

    Welcome to the new News & Citizen.
    This week, we’re delighted to introduce a bunch of new elements — a smaller, easier-to-handle size, first-class photography, a fresh design, and organization of information into topic areas such as business, religion, sports, opinion, obituaries and entertainment/calendar.
    In the long run, we think you’ll like the way we approach news. Yes, we will cover things that happen, such as meetings and accidents, but we will also go out and find stories. For instance, this week, we have a story about a legendary Peoples Academy driving instructor, an interview with the great Vermont writer Howard Frank Mosher, and a report on what’s going on with the sale of 4,000 acres of forest in Johnson and Cambridge.
    If you have something on your mind and wish our newspaper would poke into it, email us at news@newsandcitizen.com or call us at 888-2212. News tips are often the best way to get at important but hard-to-find stories.
    We know it’s asking a lot of readers to adjust from the News & Citizen’s heroic page size to a smaller tabloid size, but we hope you’ll find the ease of handling and the improved organization will make the newspaper more useful.
    The News & Citizen has been covering news in Lamoille County since 1881, and had been in the Limoge family since the 1920s before it was sold to our neighbors at the Stowe Reporter. This merger is good for both newspapers, offering new opportunities for news coverage, for advertising, and for community involvement. And, the people who run the business are local.
    Newspapers have gone through one adjustment after another through the decades; there have been more revolutions in the news industry in the past 20 years than there were in the prior 100. Fortunately, our readers have stuck by us, because they know we’re going to deliver the news and advertising information they count on.
    Our new arrangement and our “new” newspaper put us in a strong position to continue serving Lamoille County for generations to come.

The future of schools
    A difficult but vital discussion has emerged from Act 46, the new state law urging school districts to merge into larger organizations; it also sets a spending cap designed to rein in per-pupil education costs.
    The discussion: What we want our schools to be, and how much that should cost. The two parts of that discussion are equally important.
    • What we want our schools to be: Focused on what students need, offering opportunities for students to pursue many lines of learning, and promoting excellence and solid values.
    • How much that should cost: Less than it does now. In 1997, Vermont public schools had 107,000 students; today, they have 20,000 fewer — a decline of nearly 20 percent. However, the number of teachers and staff members has not declined much, and as a result, perpupil education costs keep going up.
    Schools are at the center of life in many Vermont communities. But they should not be immune to the changes in the state’s demographics — particularly its aging population and its declining birth rate. There’s a limit to how much people can afford to adjust any part of their household budget, and in some places rising education taxes have pushed through that ceiling.
    That seems to be the case in Elmore, where residents asked town officials in 2014 to seek ways to cut education taxes. Then, in 2015, the Legislature adopted Act 46, and offered financial incentives for school districts to pursue mergers with their neighbors. The idea was that larger organizations could offer more choices to students, and, because they have more moving parts, could find ways to be more efficient. In effect, Act 46 speaks to both parts of the discussion of what we want our schools to be, and how much that should cost.
    Elmore voters have made a smart decision to merge with Morristown to form a single school district. On Jan. 19, Morristown residents will vote for the second time on whether to merge with Elmore. We hope the answer is yes.
    Vermont simply can’t afford to continue operating about 300 schools in 277 school districts in 246 towns, with all the duplication that entails; nor can 55 of those schools continue to have fewer than 100 students, where efficient student-teacher ratios are nearly impossible to achieve. With more students, it’s easier to arrange for teachers to carry a full load, and for a school to offer the range of courses needed to provide the world-class education Vermont strives for.
    People love their community schools, which generally do a fine job. But Vermont has a statewide school-financing system, which means all Vermonters are paying the cost of operating tiny schools. It makes no sense for budgets to keep rising while enrollment keeps dropping.
    We all have a part in the big picture, and in solving this difficult problem.