Published in News and Citizen 3-10-15

Sound & Fury Accomplishing Little

Morristown and Elmore have decided to study a merger of their two school districts and – frankly – to me, a firm supporter of the traditional Vermont tuitioning program, the idea looks like a winner for the majority of taxpayers. Sadly, to me with a family that took full advantage of tuitioning and loved its results, it looks like a loser for freedom and for the minority. But what shall be, shall be, eh?
    Looking beyond a likely merger between Emore and Morristown, what’s next? Let me make a suggestion before the state rears its head and says this one merger isn’t good enough for their purposes; I suggest that Lamoille South Supervisory Union merge with Lamoille North Supervisory Union. No offense is meant to either superintendent. I don’t even think either would lose a job, though one might become an assistant. After all, the numbers of students to be administered will not change.
    Seriously, what’s the response to this idea? How do they like it when asked to play the same game we are in? Why can’t they at least entertain, or study the idea of merging? Can they merge curriculums? Can they save money with the economies of scale? What does each supervisory district do so uniquely that it cannot be changed? Will their merging into a super district take the pressure off their member towns to undergo more change – even if it costs the same? Will this help Stowe’s future school outlook? Would a supervisory district merger let them keep their school? Where else can Stowe look at the next turn of the state’s screw, beyond forming a purely private school or taking another look at the merger they clearly did not want with Elmore and Morristown?
    Let’s be honest, many towns are squirming under the state leash since the state took control of school financing. We should all know as fact, with great certainty, that school financing is mostly about financing teachers’ payrolls. It is about dealing with the union. When will the state look where the money exists to save?  Then again is our whole assumption wrong? Do we spend equally on students, special eduation students and high achievers? Must towns have equal spending per student? Do they in fact have equal spending? For example: Elmore doesn’t really need to merge, IF the town had been allowed (as before Act 60) to keep the $350,000 it sent the state. Stowe would be in fine shape, too. Why wasn’t school financing illegal for the dozen decades before it passed? Could it be the current judicial interpretation is wrong? Maybe so.
    To save a penny local school districts are counting pencils and  talking historic mergers as personnel costs about 80% of school budgets – conservatively.  The real money to be saved in the entire education system is if the teacher-to-student or staff-to-student ratio changes. The truth is the answers  about saving education money may be found in labor relations – how much we need and what we pay for it. How well is it performing? Do you pay a guy to build a shed what you pay to tile your marble shower? Merger studies and completed mergers are a genuine sideshow we are dancing as state officials sidestep the real issue. We are saving a buck here and buck there, while the big pot of savings goes to educators’ salaries and raises as  salaries of the great unwashed stagnate and the economy is on simmer for education consumers. The way things look to me we are on the stove in the pot and somebody else is eating the meal. I want a seat at the table, isn’t that what our representative democracy is about? Heck, I just took part in Town Meeting and I feel as though I was served up.