Opinion: With Act 46, whole lotta hoodwinking going on

By Guy Page

A lawmaker who championed Act 46 now says he’s dismayed the 2015 school merger law is being used to shut down community schools.

As chair of the House Education Committee, former Rep. David Sharpe (D-Bristol) shepherded Act 46 to passage. But in a December 12 Addison Independent guest editorial, he writes plaintively, “we have not seen the promised reduction in administrative staff in school buildings or in the superintendent’s offices. What we are seeing instead are proposals to close community schools against the specific intent of the legislation and the wisdom of many community members.”

Guy Page

He’s right about the outcome. Small school districts across Addison County (and the rest of Vermont) are being forced to merge, over vociferous, in-vain objections of supporters of local schools. A lawsuit contesting forced mergers under Act 46 is now before the Vermont Supreme Court.

With all due respect to Mr. Sharpe and his many years of dedicated service in the Vermont State House, he should have seen it coming. John McClaughry of the Ethan Allen Institute recalls:

“In his final appearance before the House Education Committee in 2013, [VT Education Secretary Armando] Vilaseca said: ‘We don’t need 272 school districts.’ A committee member inquired whether Vilaseca thought regionalization ought to be legislatively mandated. Vilaseca replied that school board members and superintendents told him ‘we’ll never do this ourselves. There has to be some sort of hammer.’ After that session Vilaseca told a reporter that ‘after seven or eight years, if the districts haven’t joined together, then the state will come in.’ Within four years Vilaseca’s hammer had fallen, and the AOE and State Board plowed ahead to complete the mandatory consolidation process.”

“There has to be some sort of hammer.” Somehow, Sharpe and others failed to see that Act 46 placed a big one firmly in the eager hands of the State Board of Education.

To hear Sharpe tell it, professional educators gave lawmakers a litany of promises about Act 46 – almost all of them unfulfilled (to use a charitable term).

Sharpe recalls how superintendents told his committee “administrative costs could be substantially reduced in order to mitigate the pupil costs increasing due to loss of students, if we consolidated school governance and administration.” That hasn’t happened in Addison County, he admits. At the high school in Bristol, enrollment is down, administrative spending is up. No staff cuts, either.

His committee was told bookkeeping costs would drop 30%. Curriculum would improve. And – get this – Sharpe says lawmakers were told “that small schools would be better able to survive and thrive in a larger integrated school district, if we consolidated school governance and administration.”

Ummm, not so much.

Sharpe then asks rhetorically, “were we hoodwinked into permitting a power grab by superintendents and school administrators?”

For sure someone was hoodwinked. Whether it was the Legislature, or the students and supporters of beloved local schools, or both, depends on whether Sharpe and the other Act 46 “Aye” votes really believed mergers would happen by consent. That Vilaseca’s hammer was just talking smack.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  It might be added that said highway runs particularly fast and smooth when its owners can pass the buck of responsibility to the slick salesmen who talked them into paving it.

A pundit’s pithy observations aside, what can be done to fix the problem?

  1. Hope the Vermont Supreme Court agrees with plaintiff lawyer David Kelley and not with the State Board of Education.
  2. Repeal or amend Act 46. That’s been tried, so far unsuccessfully.
  3. Insist (voters, lawmakers) that educational bureaucrats let mergers happen locally and with consent. And if that doesn’t work…..
  4. Threaten to eliminate the State Board of Education in hopes it will be less merger-crazy. A legislative advisory committee has recommended something similar. The 2020 Legislature must decide whether to act on the recommendation.
  5. If “the problem” isn’t limited to Act 46 but extends to all sweeping legislation fraught with potential unintended consequences, the Legislature might want to revisit the Clean Water Act of 2015, requiring upgrades in phosphorus-reducing stormwater upgrades on hard surfaces like roads and parking lots. In Stowe alone, the expected price tag will be $4.8 million for the next 16 years, or $300,000 per year. Unsupportable fiscal horror stories like that are popping up all over the state. Gov. Phil Scott says far less expensive measures would reduce the worst of the runoff into Vermont’s waterways.

Like most other real people, Vermont taxpayers are tolerant of well-intentioned mistakes. But they are less forgiving to lawmakers who won’t ‘fess up and fix the problems they created.

Read more of Guy Page’s reports at the Vermont Daily Chronicle.

Image courtesy of TNR

18 thoughts on “Opinion: With Act 46, whole lotta hoodwinking going on

  1. Neil et al:
    I know this missive is somewhat abstract. None the less, I ask that you carefully consider it.

    While Act 46 is antithesis of what our society should do, the point it raises is that we should stop assuming to know what’s best for everyone, and telling them what they should do with their lives. And yes, in saying that, I’m not telling anyone what they should do – but to ask them, and create a system of governance that allows them, to make their own choices and accept responsibility for doing so.

    Some people will want total control of their lives. Others will want someone else to tell them what they should do. Most of us fall somewhere in between. But as similar as we are, none of us are precisely the same in this regard all the time.

    For example: Some children thrive in a traditional ‘public school’ setting. Others don’t. It’s a fools errand to expect any two people to ever agree 100% on what the best education for their children should be (or cost) …let alone expect agreement from an entire State.

    School Choice isn’t just a ‘great idea’. It embodies enlightenment philosophies dating back to:

    – Plato and Aristotle in 350BC ,
    – the Magna Carta in 1215,
    – the Pilgrim’s insight in 1623,
    – Benjamin Franklin’s epiphany to unite the colonies in 1744…

    ….culminating, and continuing to this day, in arguably the most elegant form of governance ever contrived by rational human beings – limited government as prescribed by the U.S. Constitution.

    The First Problem we should address, is the fact that these points are ignored by, and are antithetical to, the current monopolized public education system. Very few of us know of this history. Again, if we allow parents to choose the education program that best meets their children’s needs, everything, and I mean everything, will begin to improve. History demonstrates this to us over and again.

    • No disagreements here! Great idea!……..:) My hunch is those in Montpelier will treat it like health care, even if they did adopt school choice. If people could get ahold of the $22,000 per year, per student (includes retirement benefits) of course they would spend it wisely and get better results.

      Personally I believe we need many, many arrows in our educational quiver. Because that would be like all of Vermont voting completely Republican ticket next year or any year, I’m not too hopeful of that promise.

      Educational choice does not address the biggest underlying issue in education, the destruction of the family unit, via poverty traps, wrong philosophies and a socialist system to keep people in equal poverty. It doesn’t address the systemic insecurity promoted by those in Montpelier who won’t and have no intention of people owning their own modest homes, a stable platform on which to build a family, even the robin knows they must build a nest before starting a family.

      We’ve indoctrinated at least 2 generations on how to be impoverished and unsuccessful in our world. We at least owe them the tools to get out.

      It’s all about money, and I think it’s going to be tougher than most realize to get a change in direction. Money has a powerful draw…more so for those in Montpelier.

      • Re: “Educational choice does not address the biggest underlying issue in education, the destruction of the family unit, …”

        I strongly disagree. School Choice enables family efficacy. It provides a ‘raison d’ê·tre’, if you will. The reason the family unit is disintegrating now is because it has no force and effect on the access and outcomes of its members. While poor parenting is blamed for the demise of student outcomes by the education establishment, when those parents excercise their opinions, they’re summarily dismissed.

        “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”
        George Bernard Shaw

        • You have a great idea Jay, no disputing that, totally support that.

          If you spend some time with those who work in DCF and families, I think you’ll find some need more help that just a choice of school.

          I’m sorry you can’t recognize the other issues families are experiencing in Vermont, they are massive. When Mom and Dad are strung out on Drugs, when they don’t have enough food to eat, when they have little love or attention, when they don’t have decent clothes, when there is so much fighting in the house you can’t think let alone study, when you’re left to play video games and watch tv, when you’re encouraged to do drugs, drink, smoke pot with your parents,………probably going to a different, better school isn’t even on the radar, unless they have some killer stinky buds…but hey….for some it’s a darn right miracle they even get to school. It’s been a good chat.

          Have a great Christmas, Happy Holidays to you and your family.

  2. Again, I see everyone complaining about the obvious…but no one offering tangible detailed suggestions. Let’s face it, government legislators and bureaucrats are an easy mark – they’re either incompetent or they’re being coerced by career commissions and appointees. We all know Act 46 doesn’t work.

    I want to know what everyone recommends we do. And that doesn’t mean just electing ‘conservative’ legislators. I don’t know what our current slate of conservative candidates want to do – except continue to complain about the status quo and make vague generalizations.

    • And it’s not just Act 46 that’s problematic. The education establishment moves the goal posts on a whim and a prayer every time its scrutinized. Of course, that’s the plan. It can’t be held accountable, if the assessment criteria are constantly changing.

      U-32 recalculates GPAs midway through the college application process

    • 1st) Publish all the pay that everyone earns w/o names. Include all benefits and retirement.
      2nd) Allow citizens $3,000 per student per year for homeschool vs.public
      3rd) No longer allow for hidden tax exemptions, one tax for all Vermont citizens
      4th) Share Principles
      5th) Standardize building review and upkeep across the state
      6th) Sunset current retirement plan that nobody can afford
      7th) Get drugs out of schools, random visits with drug sniffing dogs
      Second year
      1st) Cut spending and waste by 20%
      2nd) Promote good teachers
      3rd) Improve disciplinary expectations within schools.
      4th) Reform schools brought back
      5th) Educational programs for building families/affordable home ownership/
      6th) Build a classical education system of excellence, drop common core, get a classical format as outlined by Dr. Duke Pesta and Charlotte Iserbyt
      7th) Promoting strong family development by promoting strong family planning, jobs, marriage before bearing children. Promote adoption, make it an easy option.
      8th) Work on reduction of drug and alcohol
      9th) Foster spiritual work,, education, learn what love is.

      If people can’t easily see how much they are truly earning, or how much we are truly spending we have no financial basis to work from. Our educational system is a complete failure through no part of the hard working teachers in our system. The families in Vermont, the basis for a good future and education are under assault and many times suffer needlessly. We need to strengthen the family.

      • I don’t care what anyone earns, Neil, as long as I don’t have to subsidize their services when I don’t use them. And I don’t care if anyone earns more than I do, as long as they provide competitive products and services.

        A $3000 home school voucher? For sure. But not a word about School Choice using Tuitioning vouchers for everyone?

        Share ‘principles’? Do you mean ‘share Principals’? How many? Who? Where?

        Standardize building review and upkeep? To what standard? We already have building codes.

        What’s your definition of an ‘affordable’ retirement plan?

        I assume you mean to get ‘illegal’ drugs out of schools, not over-the-counter or prescriptions. If so, I agree. If dogs are necessary, fine. But that’s the law now. Why isn’t it working?

        Cut spending and waste 20%? Why not cut waste 100%. But then again, how do you define/quantify what’s wasteful?

        Promote good teachers? What makes a good teacher and how do we promote them? Your way or mine?

        Improve disciplinary expectations? Whose expectations? Yours or mine?

        Reform schools? Do you mean the old-fashioned penal institutions for convicted teenagers? We already have them in VT. Check out Woodside.

        Educational programs? So, you want to get rid of Common Core. What do you replace it with? Suppose I want my child to learn Common Core… or something else?

        How do you propose to promote the family? Sure, make adoption easier. But how do you propose to discourage out-of-wedlock childbirth? How do you create jobs?

        Work on reduction of drug and alcohol… you already recommended drug sniffing dogs in schools. Again, I agree.

        Foster ‘spiritual work’? What about the ‘Establishment Clause’ in the Constitution? And what is ‘love’? How does one ‘learn what love is’? And does everyone learn about ‘love’ the same way?

        Lastly, no, our education system isn’t a ‘complete’ failure. Half our kids seem to do fine. But the fact that the other half don’t is a failure. But ‘we’ can’t strengthen families. OTOH, we can families strengthen themselves. And we can start by providing a voucher so they can choose the school that best meets the needs of their children – and accept responsibility for doing so. That’s what School Choice is all about.

        Just because you put numbers in front of the issues that concern you personally, Neil, doesn’t explain what they are or how they affect everyone else. So, how does our society handle these issues? By doing what the Pilgrims did 400 years ago. They, for the first time, encouraged free markets under a rule of law. And the first place to begin should be our education system. Provide for School Choice and everything else will begin to fall into place.

        • 🙂 so, what are your thoughts? I gave an outline…..year three drop act 46, I’ve no problem with school choice either, great idea.

          Our schools give a mediocre education for a very expensive price, they are heavy with socialist indoctrination. You’ll know all about intersectionality, protesting, every sexual position by age 8, but they won’t have a basic understanding of civics and tha foundational difference that makes our country great. They’ll have no concept of business, budgets, or how to handle money. They will be sorely lacking on skills to prosper in a free society. I’d call that a failure, 50% success rate is nothing to brag about.

  3. Apparently Mr. Sharpe has never heard of the law of UNINTENDED CONSEQUENSES!!! Unfortunately, this monster law appears far too often as a result of the well meaning, poorly researched agenda these do gooders pursue.

    • Sadly, the unintended consequences were not only known by many in leadership, it was also their goal. There are no “coincidences” in Vermont. We are being played like marionette, who’s puppet master has an infatuation with the New World Order. All laid out in the plan. It is rather dry reading, most won’t, which is why we’re in the predicament we are.

  4. You get 5 stars for the title alone! Tres bien!

    There’s a whole lotta hoodwinking going on across our state…..for sure

    in so many areas!

  5. Once again, I’ll put forth the following points.
    1. In districts with School Choice Tuitioning, parents, at public cost, choose the school, public or independent, in-state or out-of-state, that best meets the needs of their children.
    2. The 2018-2019 Average Announced Tuition for Elementary Schools was $13,910.00 and $15,618.00 for 7th-12th Grade Schools.

    Now compare those costs per student to your current local district public school budget divided by the ‘actual’ enrollment of students in the school. And I say ‘actual’ enrollment because the Agency of Education uses what it calls ‘equalized’ enrollments to artificially inflate the number of students in a school – thereby artificially lowering the perceived cost per student.

    What we find is that districts with Tuitioning are more cost effective than districts without Tuitioning, by as much as 30%. We also find that student outcomes in Tuitioning districts are better.

    It’s time to stop micro-managing our education system and provide Tuitioning vouchers to all parents. History continues to show that simply changing the way education funds are raised or creating larger districts won’t lower costs or improve student outcomes.

    I’ve posited this perspective over and again and have yet to read any reason why School Choice shouldn’t be available to all Vermont parents. I challenge anyone to engage the discussion.

  6. Since the courts or legislature won’t repeal Act 46, return it to the voters for a repeal. It is us, after all, that have the real power.

    • Sorry, we gave our power to elected folk, who then gave our power to bureaucrats, who spawned hundreds, thousands of more bureaucrats.
      Classroom teachers are outnumbered about 4 to 1, and only a tiny part are janitors and lunch ladies.

  7. I was on an act 46 committee. I kept asking to see the spreadsheet showing how costs will be reduced. No one, not the Dept. of ED, VSBA, or the locals could produce any savings in their calculations. This was long before the merger was mandated. To show up now and say they didn’t know, is nonsense. They all knew, and if they didn’t they are simply too stupid to be in charge of anything that takes thousands of dollars in taxes from good people every year and produces nothing of value for the public good.

    If you really want to fix the spending problem, start by exempting everyone over 65 from paying school taxes. That alone will place the burden on people sending kids to school and force them to think about the cost and what is being taught. We all know the single most important factor in a quality education is parents being involved. If they have to pay more, they will be more involved.

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