Commentary

Voting for children and against school budget

By Guy Page

Life has changed so much in the last year – how I work, travel, and dress. Today I discovered the pandemic – or rather, our leaders’ misguided handling of it – has changed how I vote. 

Not every vote changes. I still vote for a Town of Berlin selectboard candidate I know and trust (John Quinn). When I don’t know either candidate for the other selectboard race, I pick the one (Richard Sawyer) recommended by someone I do know and trust. 

I vote for the town budget. I vote for Kellogg-Hubbard Library (sorry, PF!) because I love and believe in libraries and because KHL’s once-snooty staff has been doing its cheerful best to serve this isolated, book-starved reader. 

Swallowing hard, I approve the hefty $1.4 mil repair job of my “Drive To The Gym Road.” Most afternoons I check the mail in Montpelier then drive up the hill to Planet Fitness, hoping Fisher Road will finally be open again. Drat! It never is! The Town Meeting warning tells me why: it needs a new culvert, and should the town pay for it? Comforted by the ballot question’s vague promise of state and federal aid, I vote “yes.”

I vote against retail pot in Berlin. I only regret that I have but one vote to give in support of our youth, whose mental health always suffers where pot-shops open. These stores make their coin selling highly concentrated products that can cause psychosis. Today, (says WCAX) voters at these 26 municipalities will decide whether to allow the retail sale of marijuana: Barton, Bennington, Brandon, Brattleboro, Brownington, Burlington, Danby, Danville, Duxbury, Johnson, Londonderry, Lyndon, Middlebury, Montgomery, Montpelier, Newport City, Pawlet, Randolph, Richmond, St. Johnsbury, Salisbury, Strafford, Stratton, Waitsfield, Waterbury and Winooski.

I vote for Town Meeting Moderator Paul Gillies because he can run a meeting and is one of the smartest, most genuine lawyer-people I know (insert favorite lawyer joke here). 

Enough dalliance. Now comes the hard part: explaining why – for the first time ever – I vote against the school budget.

Since casting my first vote in 1976, I’ve put aside occasional concerns about lack of transparency, PC agendas, taking voters for granted, and uneven learning outcomes because every time I said, “I need to support children and their role in the future.”

Therefore, I don’t vote no this year because the revisionist, intolerant, and fundamentally marxist BLM flag occupies pride of place with Old Glory on so many school district flag poles. In Windsor, BLM zealots intolerantly fired School Principal Tiffany Riley just for asking questions. Barre residents who dislike flying the BLM flag year-round are called haters and racists. This is not the American Way. It is sure as heck not the Vermont Way. I’m the proud father of two African-American children who does not think BLM merits official support. 

Neither do I vote no because of the annual tax increase. It’s pretty small this year. Even if it weren’t, I wouldn’t have voted no because the future is priceless.

I vote no because in the past year, the adults who make school policy have failed our neediest children. I mean the Legislature, the teachers’ unions, and the State of Vermont. While they nattered on unceasingly about equity, they deprived poor, academically-challenged children of the in-person classroom that for many is their only portal to a better future. Low-income children were already failing at twice the rate of well-off peers.

Remote learning for many children is a nail in the coffin for a hopeful future.  They will pay for our mistake for the rest of their lives.

I know that sounds harsh. I don’t blame individual teachers. I think I understand some of the challenges of in-person learning during a pandemic. But it could have been done. Private schools managed it, somehow, with no apparent health issues. Even when statistics showed school actually was the safest place to be, part-time remote learning continued. In my opinion, the grownups failed the children. If school budgets fall across Vermont, I hope the Public School Establishment will get the message and truly put the neediest kids first. 

The pandemic has turned so much upside down. I hope that 2021 will be remembered as the last year conscientious Vermonters thought it necessary to say yes to children by saying no to the school budget.

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24 replies »

  1. Yes. For some reason teachers think that they are at greater risk from Covid, in a classroom with the same 20 masked kids all day than our grocery store, Walmart, hardware store and convenience store workers are, exposed to thousands of different customers from all over. None of the store workers got to stay home and work remotely, only the teachers. I seriously don’t get it and like you, I feel so sorry for the kids, cheated out of a year already of school, sports, camp etc.

  2. For a number of years now I have been a constant “no” vote on Colchester school budget increases, and at times municipal budgets as well.

    While I’m confident our school district has need for ever-larger budgets, we now know that public schools have become places of indoctrination in agendas and ideologies advocated by the sociopolitical left. I cannot find it within myself to reward this immoral disservice to, and programming of our youth.

    Municipal budgets also must be subject to scrutiny as, while essential and legitimate budget item increases exist, budget item funding which could be reduced or even wholly eliminated are retained.

    Of course, there’s always consideration of the already unbearable tax burden imposed on property owners as factors in “no” budget increase vote decisions as well.

    The out-of-control tax and spend mentality inherent in too many brazen bureaucrats and politicians is unsustainable for a vast majority and must be stopped.

  3. Funny how parents from “choice” towns got to send their kids to a real school, starting in September, because independent schools opened then and everybody involved stayed healthy. Best thing to do is close your government school, open an indie school in the same building, keep the NEA out of the place, then watch costs go down and scores go up.

  4. I do not think you have any understanding of what it means to open a school full-time during a pandemic, although you claim to have some inkling. You say private schools can do it, so the public schools can, too. The difference is resources–space, money and people. Public schools must contend with staffing and space, in addition to students.There are CDC guidelines for social distancing. There are hand washing protocols, desk placement, LUNCH eating, recess, old buildings, inadequate ventilation. And schools have students–unpredictable. Who separates students who fight? Who helps a first grader with her stuck zipper? What happens when adults get sick and must quarantine? If enough adults need to quarantine, and substitutes are in such short supply that there are none, what happens then?

    In such cases, doing remote learning is better than having no school at all. I was a teacher for over 40 years. My son and daughter-in-law are elementary and middle schools teachers now. I know how how they are also suffering. They want to teach in person.Teachers this past year have agonized over their students’ mental health and well-being as well as their academic progress.

    I know in person learning–even socially distanced–is better than remote learning. But given the choices we’ve had and the limited resources of the public schools–particularly those in your area–I think they’re doing a great job. They don’t need a kick in the teeth and a jab at the pocketbook from a naysayer such as yourself.

    Public schools need our support and our votes so that they CAN reopen completely. Voters who vote against school budgets just trying to make a point are hurting ALL children, not just our neediest.

    • Re: “You say private schools can do it, so the public schools can, too. The difference is resources–space, money and people.”

      You are correct. Public schools have more resources, more space, more money, and more people than independent schools have. So, oddly enough, that means public schools can’t function?

      And consistently, the public school lobby always blames someone or something else for its dysfunction.

      Why teachers, who ostensibly “agoniz[ing] over their students’ mental health and well-being as well as their academic progress”, persist in supporting the State public school monopoly is beyond me – unless, of course, they really haven’t really ‘agonized’ as much as they would like us to think they have.

      Again, the supporters of the public school monopoly are either uninformed or under its thumb.

      • Guy – thank you for sharing your thoughts – on target! Jay you are on target as well and it is about time these thoughts are expressed – what will be the next step because it’s time for words to become actions to correct what has just gone too far and yes the children are suffering because of it all.

      • While public sector unions are a systemic problem, rather than attack the union, our legislature should simply enable school choice tuition vouchers for all parents, and let them choose the school they believe best meets the needs of their children. Doing so will keep politics and legislative micro-management out of the education equation.

        The ‘systemic’ aspect of this problem is, however, that more than 40% of the Vermont workforce is employed in the government, healthcare and education sectors – not to mention those who are employed in Vermont’s largest-in-the-nation per capita non-profit organizations. Those employees, their families and friends, and the businesses they can support (or not), are the majority voting-block in the State and the largest political contributors.

        Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out what the rest of us in the minority can do about it. As the saying goes – Democracy is like two wolves and a lamb, voting on what to have for lunch.

    • Yes, public sector unions are a systemic problem. But rather than attack the union, our legislature should simply enable school choice tuition vouchers for all parents, and let them choose the school they believe best meets the needs of their children. Doing so will keep politics and legislative micro-management out of the education equation.

      The ‘systemic’ aspect of this problem is, however, that more than 40% of the Vermont workforce is employed in the government, healthcare and education sectors – not to mention those who are employed in Vermont’s largest-in-the-nation per capita non-profit organizations. Those employees, their families and friends, and the businesses they can support (or not), are the majority voting-block in the State and the largest political contributors.

      Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out what the rest of us in the minority can do about it. As the saying goes – Democracy is like to wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.

      • Busting unions isn’t the answer. Taxing corporations like Amazon would provide needed funding. Concerning vouchers, it would still exclude those with the least resources.

      • Vouchers do just the opposite of excluding those with the least resources. Wealthy parents can already afford to choose the best school for their children, public or private, and typically do.

        Teachers, for example, often send their kids to alternative schools. https://www.educationnext.org/teachers-more-likely-to-use-private-schools-for-their-own-kids/

        https://www.eagnews.org/2016/01/survey-public-school-teachers-more-likely-to-send-their-kids-to-private-school/

        And why wouldn’t they. Private schools in Vermont have been open for in-person education since August. But middle and low income parents can’t pay the high taxes the public school monopoly absorbs and also pay the alternative school tuition. Tuition vouchers remedy this inequity.

        Lastly, I don’t advocate ‘busting’ the unions. But parents should have the choice as to where their children go to school, union or not. Who knows? Maybe the union can figure out how to open the public schools, lower costs and improve education outcomes the way alternative schools do. But, for now at least, they’re not going to do it because, as a monopoly, they don’t have to.

    • So… provide transportation. What a novel idea.

      BTW: my school district already provides public transportation (yellow school buses in fact) for tuitioned independent school students.

      As for ‘etc., etc., etc.’… there’s a fix for those ‘issues’ to… if you can ever come to grips with articulating what they are.

      • Yes and yes.

        And that life is different for rural poor people is but one of the several reasons to provide the same equal access to them to choose their education programs, as wealthy people already do.

    • Yes, don’t forget to tax the ‘billionaires’!

      Take their money and let folks like phantomroseexpress reinvest it in projects they are certain will save the planet, and make life wonderful for everyone…because, clearly, our standard of living is, currently, as miserably deficient as it is. I mean, really, can life get any worse?

      Who in their right mind would question that phantomroseexpress doesn’t know better how to invest those billions of dollars in a way that will maintain our standard of living (let alone make it better)?

      Yes, let’s damn our current level of misery to the scrap heap of history…. that misery to which phantomroseexpress and others have become accustom (and take for granted), so they can wave their magic wand, save the ‘billionaires’ and all the rest of us from ourselves, … and then take responsibility for doing so by paying those taxes themselves because they will be so much more successful than were their predecessors.

      So begins the pipedream.

  5. You literally Libel me here. You evade the question of why billionaires shouldn’t pay a fair share of taxes. I don’t want to manage “their” money. I want them to pay fair taxes! Just as common people have ot pay their share of taxes.

    • The question isn’t why billionaires should or shouldn’t pay a ‘fair’ share of tax. The question is, who decides what ‘fair’ is? In my opinion, billionaires already pay fair taxes. After all, who better is there to invest that money in our economy? Bernie Sanders? You? Joe Biden? Donald Trump?

      Oh, but wait. Trump didn’t spend that tax money. He gave it back to the people who earned it and let them decide how it should be reinvested. After all, they’re the ones who know how to create the goods and services people want in the first place.

      And if you’re so sure I’ve libeled you, sue me. You know who I am. I accept responsibility for what I write here. I don’t troll from behind a pseudonym.

      • You don’t want billionaires to pay a fair share, but you don’t mind that poorer people have to pay theirs. Amazon has been avoiding taxes for years.
        You decry “socialism” without even understanding what the word means. Yet you don’t mind the government taking from poor people what little they have while allowing the rich to avoid taxes.
        And you continue to avoid the question of Amazon.
        Totalitarianism may be labeled “socialist” or “fascist”, but it is still oppression. Farmer’s didn’t give their lives to live in a country ruled by oligarchy, “right”, “left”, or otherwise.

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