Legislative preview: Education committees struggle with cost, quality

first_imgby Amy Nixon vtdigger.org(link is external) The House Education Committee faces a daunting task: balancing the need for improved public education against a public outcry for tax relief. Representative Dave Sharpe, D-Bristol, the chair of the committee believes the mission — to improve public education and find cost efficiencies — is achievable.Rep. Dave Sharpe, D-Bristol“There are some huge issues,” Sharpe said Monday. “We have a fair amount of material or input from Vermonters over the last year. There was a summer study group the speaker put together, there was a group who worked on education in the Mad River Valley, and an imperative came from the Vermont Business Roundtable,” for starters. “And there are a number of other groups and individuals who have put forward proposals for what we do with education in Vermont, and how we tax our citizens in our state for education.“We have a lot on our table, and we have a big challenge,” Sharpe said.Sharpe has an inside view of public schools: He taught automotive technology in Essex for more than 20 years before he ran his own automotive shop.Rising property taxesThe call for quality public education at a more affordable cost for homeowners has come in from all corners of the state.“Within the revenue constraints that we are currently in, I don’t see any new money coming into education,” Sharpe said. “My major hope is to be a consensus-builder.”Setting the stage for cooperation will be key, Sharpe said, “… because I don’t think we can get this done without cooperation, not only across party lines, but also across geographic lines. Education is approached very differently in different regions of the state,” he said.One of the concerns raised in many corners of Vermont as it looks to find efficiencies in education is the number of small schools in the state.“In Vermont, we have tiny schools,” Sharpe said. “When you look in the literature, and they’re talking about small schools (nationally) they are talking in the 400-600 student body range, and I think we have over 100 schools with fewer than 100 students, so we really have tiny schools in Vermont.“I get the discussion and how difficult it is,” he said, but “how willing communities are to pay for the costs of those small schools has got to be part of the discussion if we look at the cost drivers,” such as health care.Sharpe said he is already fielding phone calls and emails from people about his new role in the state’s educational landscape.“It’s amazing how varied those comments are,” he said. “I think there are a number of people who are concerned about their property taxes, and, ironically, they tend to be people with more money rather than less money. Nevertheless, people are concerned about property taxes.”Preparing students for 21st centurySharpe said quality, too, is at the forefront.“We do a pretty good job in our public schools,” he said, “but people want us to do an even better job preparing students for the 21st century.”What Sharpe said is being called for is for the state’s educational system “to do a better job within the financial limitations we are operating under.”Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, has been on the Senate Education Committee the past four years, and he said he hopes to serve on it again, but “no one will be sure of that until Thursday or Friday.”Sen. Phil Baruth, D-Chittenden, committed to health care legislation this session during an AFT Vermont meeting in Burlington on Monday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger“I think there is a lot of concern about property taxes and the way they spike in some communities and also seem to be going up at a greater rate than people had imagined or have an easy time dealing with, so there’s that,” Baruth said.The second issue is the dwindling population in many areas, and the fact that “costs have continued to rise … I think critics have a hard time seeing those things happening and not calling for a major realignment of our priorities,” he said.Baruth said the House Education Committee came out with a bill last session that would have created mandatory consolidation and would have affected any district that didn’t meet a uniform size, but the Senate “made it clear we were not going to support a mandatory, one-size-fits-all model.”The House bill came to the Senate Rules Committee at the very end of the session, Baruth said.“That’s going to be a big elephant in the room immediately. Can we find a way to reduce the number of districts, reduce administrative redundancies?” he said. “These solutions might actually increase quality in certain locations.”Baruth said, “I think there is a compromise that can be made in terms of isolating districts that are not serving their students well because they are too small. Can we find ways to nudge those districts into consolidation and provide greater opportunities for students because their school doesn’t offer, say, advanced algebra?”“There are some really tough conversations going on in almost every committee,” Baruth said. “I think it’s a really good moment to make some headway on some of these issues, because I think that after a train wreck between the House and Senate, everyone would like to not have another one of those.”Like Rep. Sharpe, Baruth, who is the Senate Majority Leader, said he is hearing from people. “You always hear both sides. I hear a lot of people saying, ‘I don’t want my property taxes to go up, in fact, I want them to go down dramatically.’ ”“I also hear from people saying, ‘Look, we didn’t send you to Montpelier to slash our children’s education budgets,’ ” he said.Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, has an idea to try and bring in social services to work more within the schools.“I would really like to see if we can both improve services and reduce costs by integrating the human services personnel into the schools so that the social work aspect of our education system can be removed from the teachers’ backs and the education budget,” Zuckerman said.“I’m sure it will be complicated, but I think it’s worth looking at.”last_img read more

Kick-off change for Saracens fixture

first_imgThe round 19 fixture at Ashton Gate Stadium on Saturday, April 13th will now kick off at the later time of 5.30pm.The club will be hosting a Combination day, encouraging the local amateur rugby clubs from around the region to come and support Pat Lam’s men.The later kick-off time will allow adult teams to play their Saturday fixtures and then travel to the game against the reigning champions.Bristol Bears thanks Saracens for their co-operation.Ticket offers and packages for this game will be released in due course. Tickets for upcoming games available online by clicking here or by calling supporter services on 0117 963 0600.last_img