« Previous  
 Next »

Ed cost

02/27/07 12:00AM By Dick Mallary
 MP3   Download MP3 

(HOST) As part of our week on the future of education in Vermont, commentator Dick Mallary thinks the time has come to rectify costly inefficiencies in Vermont's public education system.

(MALLARY) In this state where median incomes are near the middle of all states, the costs of primary and secondary education per capita are among the highest in the country while our results are good but not outstanding.

The reason is not hard to find. Our system uses it's people inefficiently. Our high costs are predominantly personnel costs. For every student in Vermont, we employ more teachers and more administrators than does any other state.

And why do we do that?

One of our reasons is our geography and that is something we can't change. Vermont is a rural state where the population is widely dispersed. There are areas where schools must be small unless we require students to be bussed for unacceptably long distances.

A second reason is history and tradition; and here change is possible. Vermont has 246 towns and over 250 school districts. It has a hodgepodge of town school districts, union school districts, supervisory unions and other entities that govern the system - each with its own separate board and administrative structure.

The result is not only that there is duplication and inefficiency in governance, but also that many districts have so few students that they cannot easily and productively assign teachers to reasonably sized classes.

To improve this situation, we must discard some of the parochialism of the past and embrace cooperation, coordination and, yes, consolidation of schools and school districts - an effort that has been tried in the past with scant success.

Commissioner Cate is now on a listening and informational tour around Vermont discussing this issue. When his results are in, we will need to rationalize and reduce the number of school administrative districts in the state. This should lead to the combining or closing of some schools with a resulting decrease in the number and cost of teachers and aides and administrators without detriment to the quality of the education provided.

A third and significant element in the high cost of our school system is what we call special education. The well-intentioned effort by the Federal government to improve the education of disabled individuals, called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, provides money to the states for programs to meet the needs of these students.

By accepting the funds - which are far less than originally promised - Vermont is required to meet Federal standards in providing programs for these students. Many of these programs are very costly and labor-intensive and their costs take priority over all other school costs when budget time comes. We can not afford to let the spending for these programs deprive the vast majority of the students of an appropriate education. These students need to be managed carefully and humanely, but the highest cost alternative is not always the only acceptable one.

Controlling education costs is not easy. We have to have the courage to set priorities and to make the hard and unpopular decisions necessary.

Dick Mallary has served extensively in state government and is a former US congressman from Vermont.

comments powered by Disqus
Supported By
Become an Underwriter | Find an Underwiter