Charity on June 20th, 2006

For the last few years, the Burlington School District has proposed closing one or more school buildings due to declining enrollment and increasing spending. Every time the issue is brought up, the parents at said school protest and the idea is tabled. Last March there was even an item on the Town Meeting Day ballot allowing residents city-wide to show their support for “community schools.”

Then former Superintendent Lyman Amsden brought up the issue of equal educational opportunities for low-income students, who perform below their higher-income peers and are mostly concentrated into the two Old North End schools, incidentally the two frequently cited for closure.

So, of course there was a task force assigned to look into ways to level the playing field for these low-income students. According to an article in the BFP, the task force on student equity has made a number of recommendations about how the district can improve educational opportunities for low-income students. One of the suggestions is to have two K-2 schools and two 3-5 schools. There are currently six K-5 elementary schools in Burlington. This would allow the district to close one or two of the buildings.

But wait, we could use those buildings to have magnet schools that focus on the arts, business, technology, or some other field.

Then of course, we need to offer pre-school under the umbrella of public (taxpayer funded) education - another recommendation - and extended hours after school, as well.

This ties in well with the legislature’s efforts to include pre-K in with the state-wide education funding, a move that would have already happened had it not been for the conservative groups, who scrutinize education spending.

In an “ideal” Burlington, we would have two schools with pre-K through 2, two schools with 3-5, a magnet school for the arts, a magnet school for technology, math, and/or science, a 5:1 student-teacher ratio, teachers would make a “livable” starting wage of $50,000 (with full health insurance, premium free), and all of us nay-saying crusaders for lower taxes would move away and stop raining on everyone else’s parade.

That was meant to be illustrative of how ridiculous and unrealistic the goals are of some with respect to the school system, but as I type it, I realize how many people actually think that way.

Unfortunately, they along with the school district, missed the memo about how fed up the taxpayers in Burlington are getting. I suggest they go down to channel 17, get a copy of the last City Council meeting, and listen to the public forum, where one after another, irate taxpayers voiced their frustration over the proposed tax increase.

The recommendations made by the task force are only the start of what is sure to be a long discussion about the future of Burlington City Schools, but if the school district is not considerate of the limitations of the taxpayers, the changes will not be possible in the long term because the funding will not be there. There is only so much the taxpayers will tolerate before they start voting down the school budgets - a Burlington tradition that has been absent the last couple of years.

I hope the school board will view the taxpayers as partners, instead of adversaries, and remember that we all want good quality schools, but we need to be able to afford to stay in our homes as well.

One Response to “Remember the taxpayers”

  1. Yeah, there’s also meetings being set up at the state education level, to further research how to change the governance model of the education system in Vermont.
    It was recently mentioned on yesterday’s Ch. 3’s 6 o’clock news:

    At the state board of education meeting, School Governance is the discussion of the day… ((Richard Cate 8:14tc …i’m saying that we should have a conversation about whether the system we’ve got today is working. )) Last month, Vermont’s Education Commissioner proposed cutting the number of school districts in the state from 284 to 63. ((richard cate 7:45tc … some people thought it was a good idea, other people said this is not something we should be engaged in so as would be expected, there was a mixed reaction. )) The governance proposal is meant to begin a discussion. There are 52 school districts in the state that have fewer than 100 students. Cate believes that schools could become more efficient if they merged with neighboring districts. ((Tom james 13:41tc… it’s clear that the efficiencies can be achieved, it’s not necessarily clear that we can save significant money )) ((richard cate 8:45tc … it think that in the longer term it could slow the growth of the cost of education, it’s not going to have some immediate effect)) In the past 100 years, the state has tried 19 times to change the governance structure in the education system, it failed every time. The loss of local control was the underlying issue almost every time. ((nat6:50tc… what is it that they truly feel they are going to lose?)) To avoid the same outcome, the commissioner wants to involve the public in the discussion. Starting this fall, 38 public meetings will be held across the state to discuss merging districts. ((10:49tc…it’s not like the world is going to end, but i am concerned that we are using up our human capital in a way that is not efficient as it should be, )) The board of education will continue their talks about the governance structure at it’s next meeting in August. Beth LeClair … Channel 3 News … Randolph

    Here’s a link to the report from the board of education.