School Choice and Consolidation in Vermont

Now that the Vermont Yankee debate has died down, the current hot topic before Vermont’s state government is school choice. Here’s what I think on this.

The education system in this state is a joke. As a graduate (Whitcomb High School class of 1990), former employee (Teacher – Computer Technology, Randolph Area Vocational Center, 1993-1994) , independent contractor (2003-present), and taxpayer (2002-present), I have some experience on this matter.

The supervisory unions rarely seem to provide anything but frustration with a high price tag. Admittedly, a lot of this overhead is federally mandated, but that is no excuse for the state imposing such an inefficient, top-heavy management structure on Vermont towns. Bethel’s own recent experiences with supervisory unions may be an extreme example, but they are, nevertheless, an example. We don’t need nearly as many supervisory unions as we have. Consolidate the districts, and trim the fat.

As for school choice, this is something I think everyone should be entitled to, as it would let the good schools bubble up and let the ones that are a complete waste of time money sink, and get shut down.

I have said for several years that everyone should have school choice. The new legislation, being debated and voted on this week, would provide just that. The problem is that it would not let anyone choose to send their child to any school – school choice would be extended to students within 13 or 20 (I say 13) educational districts (which would replace the ridiculous 60 supervisory unions). Most Vermont towns do not have school choice. The proposed legislation would allow school choice only within the new districts, so that town A, which has a lousy school, would be allowed to send their students to nearby town B, which has a good school. As a result, town A’s lousy school will eventually be shut down because nobody goes there any more.

I was recently asked, as an alumnus of Whitcomb High school, “how would you feel if Bethel schools closed?” I didn’t even have to think about the response, which was “shut it down.” I’m all for giving the taxpayers the ability to shut down schools that aren’t doing much more than providing a glorified daycare at exorbitant rates.

I’d further submit the following parting thoughts:

  • Extend school choice to be statewide. Let people send their kids as far as they think is reasonable, even if it means going beyond the current district boundaries. If the town you live in is right next to a town with a great school, it seems silly to keep you from sending your child to school there.
  • Nullify all existing contracts with all educational staff, including teachers, administration, etc. All schools get new staff, with no preference given to seniority. Hire teachers based on their qualifications, not tenure. If your last name is “Einstein,” “Hawking,” or “Newton,” maybe you’re entitled to tenure. Otherwise, you should be held to the same standards as any employee in the private sector. On that note, put a strangle hold on the unions for pity’s sake. They’re ridiculous. It’s like you have to be an accused felon to get fired these days.
  • If you want to keep your town’s school running, despite a majority’s desire for consolidation, fine. Make it a private school, and everyone who wants to pay for its upkeep can do so, and let the rest of the taxpayers off the hook, keeping them responsible only for the public school district.

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