Guest Column (2/18/10)

High cost of state’s education

Feb. 18, 2010

By Doug Ferreira

Why is the cost of education in Vermont among the highest in the nation?

 Staffing numbers are among the highest in the nation.

1. Enrollment has dropped by 10,000 students in the last nine years and is expected to drop further. 

2.  As enrollment declines, staffing must also decline.  However; the number of aides, and other non-education staff has increased by 25 percent. The number of teachers has also increased by 14.8 percent, and the number of teaching assistants has INCREASED by 40.9 percent.

3.  In an effort to reduce the high cost of education, qualified teachers were offered a cash incentive of $6,000 to retire early.  However, some of those that took the cash incentive and retired early, were REHIRED as teacher assistants. The school staff and administration are completely overstaffed, and out of control. Some of those tax dollars need to be available for other needed services such as: police, fire, road maintenance, town office staff, etc.

 These are the very same people that expect the taxpayers to pass school budgets in the name of education. It is clear to me that education is not the main focus of the teachers’ union, its main focus is MONEY and BENEFITS. My opinion is to vote down any and all school budgets that do not indicate a substantial reduction in staff and cost. Do not feel guilty with a NO vote; the people that should feel guilty are members of the teachers union and administration. The school budget needs to be more than cut, it needs to be slashed. 

We, the taxpayers must insist on having an opportunity, and a right, to vote on, and be part of, the budget process. Passing budgets via Australian ballot seems to be stacked, and unfair.   After all, we are the ones paying the bill. We have a right to know how our tax dollars are spent.

Property values continue to decrease, and property taxes continue to increase.  Remember; education is primarily funded by our property tax dollars.

People on a fixed income have less money to spend as taxes increase. However; the teachers in Richmond have received a 9 percent raise over the next three years and will have more money to spend thanks to our property tax dollars. What is wrong with this picture? Social Security recipients did not get a raise this year, and will not get one next year!

Governor Jim Douglas, and The Vermont Department of Education, are fully aware of Vermont’s high cost of education and will be working hard to reduce these costs, but they need our help.

Here are some cost cutting suggestions I found on the Internet under the Vermont Department of Education.

 1. Phase out the Small Schools Grant given the demonstrated need to encourage school consolidation. 

2. Require that all licensed education contracts require a minimum of 20 percent health care premium contribution.

3. Enhance the commissioner’s powers to consolidate school districts inclusive of funding incentives. 

Gov. Douglas is truly working hard to make Vermont an affordable place to live, work and retire. Thank him for what he is doing for the citizens of Vermont.  Get involved with your local town and city government to control cost, and ultimately your tax bill.  Remember the phrase of John Walsh of “America’s Most Wanted,” – “You can make a difference.”

Doug Ferreira is a California resident and Richmond, Vermont homeowner.