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The 64 thousand dollar question

Well vote # 3 failed. Now the question returns to Why? We (the royal We) have heard that people are voting no because the cuts have been too deep and they won’t support the budget. We have heard teachers make too much money and should not be allowed to have their family members on their insurance plans. We have heard it is a protest vote against the ever increasing tax burden for education funding in VT. We have heard the SPED population is too high and there are too many paraprofessionals in the school. We have heard that the test scores are terrible and the school is failing to reach Annual Yearly Progress. We have heard that the school has no right to spend money over that approved by the voters; even when it is mandated by the state and federal government that services must be provided regardless if these services are covered in the approved budget. We have heard that it is “us” vs. “them” and the school only reaches out to voters when they want money. We have heard that students are looking at other schools as programs are cut, schedules are limited, and  academic opportunities dwindle. Not the best atmosphere to pass a reasonable budget that respects the needs of the taxpayer while providing for the education of the children. So, what to do? That is the 64 thousand dollar question. All I can do at the moment is address each of these concerns as I see them:

  • Voters need to understand the correlation between a no vote and continued cutting of the budget. No=too much money, too high a tax rate, which results in the budget being cut further.
  • I was asked when did it become a bad thing to work hard and have a good job. A good question. There was a time in this country, not that long ago, that teaching was seen as an honorable profession. One that held the future of the country in its hands as it worked to educate the next generation. Teacher unions, the NEA and AFT, have become the target of heated debate and the teaching profession is under siege. Effective teachers are demonstrably the most important resource schools have for improving the academic success of their students (Hanushek and Rivkin 2006; Rice 2003).
  • In 2004 the Economic Policy Institute did a study that examined trends in the relative weekly earnings of elementary and secondary school teachers. They found that “the average weekly pay of teachers in 2003 was nearly 14% below that of workers with similar education and work experience, a gap only minimally offset by the better nonwage benefits in teaching. Teacher earnings have fallen below that of the average college graduate in recent decades, losing considerable ground during the late 1990s, as earnings of college graduates grew 11% relative to the much lower 0.8% growth in teacher earnings.” There are also analysis of 2010 Census Bureau data that show while Public school teachers do receive salaries 19.3% lower than similarly-educated private workers, teachers are well compensated when total benefit packages are include with salaries ( Biggs  and Richwine 2011). I would argue that yes we as tax payers do pay the total compensation package for our teachers, but benefits are not calculated in net pay that teachers bring home each week which brings us back to the 19.3% lower salary then similarly-educated private workers. Also, teachers are members of our tax base, so they are helping to support themselves.
  • Well, the protest vote that defeated 35 budget in VT did result in Montpelier lowering the tax rate 3 points. However, using a local school as a pawn in a much larger game does not sit well with me. I do not support the ends justifying the means. And as we are now moving into vote #4, I don’t think this is one of the main reasons the budget was defeated anymore.
  • SPED is federally mandated under the ADA. The federal government has lowered its support of their mandates to less that 20% of the total costs to the  schools. We are responsible for the difference. Public schools must educate all students and unlike private and Charter schools cannot decide which students they will or will not educate. There are students that are teetering on the edge and need a little extra support, but without availability of those mid-level supports they will end up on an IEP; increasing the overall costs to the school. That being said, more needs to be done to move kids off IEPs, including working with the classroom teachers on collaborative approaches in the best interest of the child.
  • Push back against standardized testing is happening all over the country. These tests are not truly diagnostic and are not the best measure of a student’s growth and learning. A combination of factors are the best the measures of a student’s progress. Teaching is more art than science and kids are more than a number.
  • Strong fiscal oversight and belt tightening have brought us from years of deficits to 2 years of surplus. But even the best financial management and oversight cannot predict a fire alarm system not working or the child with extraordinary needs moving into the district. This is why we have contingency funds and a pledge to alert the public of potential cost over runs before they occur.
  • Extraordinary effort has been put into reaching out to the public, providing information in multiple venues, asking for public input and participation in Board meetings and budget discussions. These efforts will continue to build trust and move the discussion from “us” vs. “them” to “we”.
  • Students have expressed concerns but they have also expressed their love of their school, the importance of the relationships they have with teachers and friends, and the support systems that a small school can provide. These are important to their success, but assuring that they are given the opportunities to excel academically is ultimately the goal of a school. Career or college ready is a great tag line, but students need the resources and choices to find their path to success.

The heart of a community is its school. The quality of the school is a criteria people consider when choosing where to live. People moving into an area to have their children attend that school raises property values. Engaged students with choices of classes and electives remain in school and hopefully graduate with the skills and knowledge necessary to land that job or get into that college. We are all connected, we are all neighbors, we are all dependent upon the success of our community, what’s best for the community is a good school with a good reputation.

Will budget #4 pass? Only time will tell.

 

 

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