Fund Our Schools
Montpelier is a great city with a tradition of vibrant and inclusive public debate. And this is a very healthy thing for a community. But there has been a very vocal minority putting forth that the “problem” with our school budget is that we are spending too much to educate our children.
As a member of the Montpelier School District Program and Finance Committee, I can say we looked at every line in the school district’s budget for possible savings. We examined new ideas like collaborating with neighboring districts, dual enrollment, virtual learning and more. Our conclusion was that there was no single “silver bullet” for significant savings that wouldn’t greatly impact the quality of education the district offers or the work environment for the education professionals we ask to teach our children.
By the time the committee had wrapped up its assignment, I was left with the distinct impression that Montpelier schools are doing a great job educating our children with the funding they have and that additional investments would provide even more payoffs for our community and our youth.
Montpelier schools consistently rank amongst the very top of the state in graduation rates and across a range of test scores while in the very middle of median spending per student. For example, Montpelier High School ranked first in Vermont in NECAP math in 2012 and over the last three years has a graduation rate of 95 percent, 94 percent and 96 percent. Our school system has also been the recipient of a number of national recognitions for educational quality.
Our per pupil spending is about in the middle for similar school districts (unified, public K-12). Our budgeted expenditures per equalized pupil rank us 18th among 30 schools in our cohort group and 118th of 265 districts throughout the state.
In other words, we are currently getting a great return on the investment we taxpayers are making in our children.
Please consider these important facts as you follow the public discussion over the budget that is being put to voters to fund our schools.
Peter Sterling, Montpelier
No Children, But I Support the School Budget
Even though I have no children and no plans for any, I am voting yes for Montpelier’s school budget because strong public schools benefit everyone in the community from both a civic and economic standpoint. In fact, I would support an even stronger budget than the modest proposal from the school board because I believe it still leaves our children’s needs unmet particularly when it comes to technology, maintenance of our facilities — which has been too long deferred — and class sizes in certain grades.
Montpelier has excellent schools — and teachers — that have received national recognition. I know several families who have moved here from surrounding communities like Northfield, Worcester, and Barre and several others who want to move here because the schools are better than the communities where they live. In the Feb. 4 Bridge, I was pleased to read that the quality of our schools is even attracting students from China, whose families pay as much as $7,000 per year to send them here. While here, they get the same quality education as our kids and get exposed to this community’s strong values.
Good schools are the foundation of strong and stable property values because as long as people keep having children, quality education will always be in demand. Maintaining the quality of our schools is essential to the sustained vibrance of our town. To do that we must continue to invest wisely as I hope we will.
Anthony Nicholas Larrapino, Montpelier
Vote ‘Yes’ on the School Budget
As a parent of two young children and a homeowner in Montpelier, I am writing to urge people to vote “yes” for the school budget on Town Meeting Day March 3. Voting “yes” is a vote to support our schools, our kids, and our community.
Our school system continues to do a fine job, but the truth is that educational opportunities in Montpelier’s public schools have been diminishing and are increasingly under threat. Over the last seven years, enrollment in our schools has declined by roughly 8 percent while our overall spending has been reduced far in excess of that, by almost 20 percent. We must not delude ourselves that “cuts do not affect quality” or that this erosion does not matter because “children are resilient,” as some opponents of fully funding our schools have argued. These cuts have resulted in teacher and staff layoffs, programmatic cuts, loss of after-school opportunities, elimination of sports teams, and cancelling or postponement of needed new programs.
There is little question that school funding needs to be re-examined. Funding schools primarily through property taxes is regressive and places too high a relative burden on working and middle class families. Sensible and fair alternatives exist: taxing income and wealth, school consolidation, increasing the housing stock in Montpelier, a local options tax. But reforming school funding to reduce the burden on working people and increase the portion paid by the affluent is a longer-term goal.
Supporting our children and our community and stopping the erosion of our schools requires the first step of voting “yes” on the School Budget on March 3.
Andrew Tripp, Montpelier
Support Tax on Sugary Drinks
I want healthy, prosperous lives for all of my kids. That is my big-picture goal as an after school and summer learning program coordinator in Northfield, where we plan physical activity, healthy snacks, and skill-building activities into our daily routine. We work hard with our limited resources to provide for the wellbeing of children and youth; that is why it pains me to see so many of my students drinking soda for breakfast and eating candy all afternoon. I believe the first step we need to address this public health concern in Vermont is to support a tax on sugary drinks.
Taxing drinks with added sugars sends a message to kids that excess sugar is dangerous and that we care about their health. Since sugar has zero nutritional value and our bodies do not need it to function or thrive, the tax is comparable to cigarettes or alcohol. Sugary beverages should be a treat, not a staple, and a tax would help send this message.
A tax that costs a few pennies per ounce of soda help prevent the $202 million dollars per year we collectively spend on obesity related illnesses. The money raised could go toward offering healthier food and beverage options in schools, which could lead to further health care savings down the road.
Please join me in urging our legislators to support the sugary drinks tax to send a message to Vermont’s children that we as teachers, parents, friends, and neighbors care about their health!
Vanessa Emery, Site coordinator, Bridges Afterschool, Washington South Supervisory Union
Farmer Supports Carbon Pollution Tax
I’m an organic farmer in central Vermont, and I strongly support the implementation of a carbon pollution tax.
I’m concerned how climate change will impact our agricultural systems. I’m concerned that as the climate changes, ecosystems will become stressed, pollinator populations will continue to decline, and many of the birds, bats and beneficial insects that feed on pest insects will disappear. I’m concerned that as temperatures rise and summers become more moist and humid, pest insects, disease and weed pressure will increase, requiring increased amounts of powerful and toxic herbicides and pesticides, causing more harm to the environment and ourselves. The increase of toxic chemicals will kill off even more birds, bats and beneficial insects, contaminate our water, soils and our food, and lead to more health problems. Increased amounts of agricultural chemicals will also result in increased costs for conventional farmers. For organic farmers, there will be increased costs in labor and materials to help combat the growing pressure put on them by climate change.
It’s a vicious cycle we find ourselves in, and it’s going to take an organized local-to-global effort to reverse it.
It feels like we’ll have to move mountains in order to shift to a carbon reducing way of life, but the carbon pollution tax is the kind of policy that makes me believe it might be possible to effect such positive change. It sends a message that when fossil fuel corporations pollute the atmosphere, they must be held accountable. It will also help reduce carbon emissions, reduce taxes, create jobs, help low income Vermonters cut their energy bills, and provide incentive for folks to burn less fossil fuels.
We can no longer sit idly by debating the particulars of climate change. We need to start the long journey towards carbon-neutrality now.
Jaiel Pulskamp, Worcester