Group Pushes For Changes To Education System

12/11/12 7:34AM By Bob Kinzel
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The Campaign for Vermont, which describes itself as an independent policy group, wants lawmakers to consider a plan that makes major changes to the state's education system.

Very few of the recommendations of the group are new. Instead, the report ties together a number of plans that have been considered at the Statehouse for several years.

Tom Pelham is a cofounder of the Campaign. He says Massachusetts has been to achieve better student performance outcomes than Vermont while spending less money per student.  He says Vermont's economy will prosper if his group's proposals are put into place.

"If we can give the economy that assurance, people will come and invest here they will bring their families here. Instead of losing kids as we have been."

Pelham wants to consolidate school districts, increase class size, implement full public school choice and a develop a process that ties teacher salaries with a meaningful evaluation system.

"Then if you say ok what if we in Vermont didn't have 62 or 64 Supervisory Unions but reduced that to 15 and consolidated that with the management structure for the Tech Centers," said Pelham. "That certainly would save money."

Bruce Lisman is the other co founder of the Campaign. He says the changes could save 160 million dollars a year and he wants to invest part of this money in pre-kindergarten programs.  

Lisman says that while the overall plan could result in closing down some of the state's smaller schools, he thinks some students might enjoy additional educational opportunities.

"It may result as a natural consequence that in a bigger school district there might be the greater weight saying that school in that town and that number of kids in that physical plant ought to join with this town's effort."

House Speaker Shap Smith says he's willing to look at the group's report but he says school consolidation isn't as easy as some people think.

"As someone who lives in a district that is actively discussing consolidation of two high schools, I can tell you that it is a very thorny issue at the local level and has many aspects that are very hard to basically bring people together on."

And Smith says it's critical to keep a lid on spending if the current funding system is going to survive.

"There's no doubt that we have to be careful in how much we're spending, we don't have an unlimited amount of money and if we are not careful I do think that we will reach a crisis point where we could see a lot of pressure to change the system."

Smith acknowledges that Vermont spends a lot of money on education and he thinks schools should be held accountable for their student performance outcomes.

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