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School budgets will muddle through

03/06/2008

By Arthur Trezise

Between the no-shows and the no-objections at Tuesday's Town Meetings, Valley school budgets will probably muddle through -- to the frustration of citizens concerned about education and the increase in property taxes.

But the individual Town Meetings are unable to resolve these problems because the maze of the existing education bureaucracy defies control at the local level. The organization structure throughout the state needs major surgery. Missing is the clear definition of responsibilities accompanied by the authority to get the job done.

Fortunately, key proposals are coming to the surface:

• Education Commissioner Richard Cate has soundly recommended the consolidation of school districts and the elimination of supervisory unions with their duplication of work, lack of real authority and high overhead cost;

• Senator Harold Giard says, "...the state Board of Education is completely out of touch.... Education is a $1.6 billion industry with no leader.  Give us somebody."

• Governor Jim Douglas endorses eliminating the Board of Education and elevating the education commissioner to a cabinet level secretary, (however, a view not shared by Richard Cate).

• I'm adding mine: Define each school principal as the effective CEO with power to hire and fire staff so as to achieve the educational goals within the parameters specified by the district; the principal, in turn, would be subject to the same actions based on performance at the pondered judgment of the district CEO.

A new organization structure could enable the towns to focus on budget aspects within their control while getting tangible benefits from professional educators and negotiators on areas outside town control. Particularly helpful would be state negotiation of union contracts including job expectations, teaching qualifications, and better compensation (for improved recognition of competent classroom personnel).

In the case of The Valley schools, an enlarged district with executive authority could ensure better teaching performance, a richer curriculum for the student population, and a more efficient use of educational resources with notable reductions in property taxes.

Arthur Trezise lives in Fayston.
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