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    JB McKinley is Editor of the News & Citizen and The Transcript.  He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Morristown Centennial Library.  Comments regarding his column can be sent to, or posted here below.

Published in News and Citizen 4-1-14

School Consolidation Proposal

    As I hope all of us know, there is a scheme afoot in Montpelier to consolidate school districts (H.883) and essentially do away with local school boards. The proposal I’ve seen has many positive points in its favor. According to some school administrators this one might even save money. One certain result is it would destroy what may well be a myth of local control – at least as far as school boards are concerned.
      I’ve had a look at all 39 pages of it, although I’m sure it is evolving in Montpelier. I believe it’s worth looking at further, but I don’t believe it is worth jumping on the consolidation bandwagon. First of all it is a bandwagon with no reverse. There’s no going back. Secondly, proponents must clearly and certainly explain how they will put a capable of action, effective element of local control into the new system. This people’s element must have some way of throwing a wrench into the whole operation of the system if the system refuses to respond. That is what local control really is.
      Finally, there is a reason I cannot support the new system as I believe it has passed its House committee and has achieved 6 to 1 approval with the Board of Education. It is because it demolishes the 1869 town tuitioning system that is now in place. It links towns forever to their initial, geograpically adjacent districts. It ineffectively provides for a weak semblance of the current tuioning situation. It commits towns like Elmore and Wolcott to fewer choices than they now have. Why would anyone meekly accept fewer choices?
Below is what we have available now.

(Source: online from The Friedman Foundation)

Vermont - Town Tuitioning Program
Launched 1869
Many towns in Vermont, particularly in rural areas, do not operate public high schools and/or elementary schools. Students in those towns may use public dollars to attend any public or approved independent (private), non-religious school in or outside of Vermont. The “tuitioning” towns pay tuition directly to the “receiving” schools. For 2013-14, tuition amounts equal $11,703 for grades K-6 and $13,084 for grades 7-12. Although most tuitioning towns allow parents to choose which schools will receive their students, some towns send all their students to one school.
LATEST STATS (2013-14)
Students participating: 2,608
Schools participating: 100
Average voucher value: $14,055

Student Funding
When students are tuitioned at public schools, the sending town pays the receiving school district an amount equal to the receiving district’s average per-pupil costs, as calculated by the Vermont Agency of Education. When students are tuitioned at private schools, the voucher is worth up to the average announced tuition for Vermont public schools, calculated each year by the state, or the private school’s tuition (whichever is less). That figure is calculated separately for grades K-6, 7-8, and 9-12.
Student Eligibility
Students must live in Vermont and reside in an identified tuition town.
Rules & Regulations
• Income Limit: None
• Prior Year Public School Requirement: None
• Geographic Limit: District (without elementary or high school)”

      In summary, I offer a proposal. Make universal choice the law and allow an average town tuition to travel with the student anywhere in state. School transportation is not the law in any case. We only have buses now because we once wanted them. Many parents and kids now drive themselves despite the bus we underwrite. Abolish busing universally or let its cost be paid by users like any other buses.  Even let bus routes connect so kids can go to other towns’ schools. That satisfies the Supreme Court. This way all students have exactly the same choice – any school they are willing to pay for.
      I believe less than 15% of student/parent decisionmaking groups would choose schools beyond their most local school.
      Is it complicated, you ask? Maybe, but no more than the situation is at present. Lastly, since when has more inclusive controlling, bigger and powerful government ever worked efficiently? For example, how’s government doing in health care? Ah, yes. Happy Days are here.