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The Valley Reporter
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Waitsfield, VT 05673

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Don't complain if you didn't participate

By Sue Anne Stager

Town Meeting Day was Tuesday. Budgets are ready for us to vote for, against, or change. It will be interesting to see if some, all, or none of our representatives are living in the real world or in la-la land where the economic crisis doesn't exist. I live in Warren. I figure that at least one budget is in la-la land. The town budget rarely recommends significant increases. The school budgets are another matter.

Given the economic disaster happening worldwide, I wonder if maybe all the voters who never show up will decide that perhaps it is about time they do. It has been a long time since I retired from serving 15 years on the Warren School Board. Only one time in the last 35 years do I recall that the voters cut the budget. They cut $25K and it was a slap on the wrist. They wanted to send a message. It was a very, tiny message.  

Years ago most voters stayed for the school meeting. They cared about how much money was being spent. Most voters trusted that they wouldn't be asked for more than was needed by their fellow townspeople serving on the board. Times have changed. Only a handful of voters without children, or grandchildren, in the school, and/or without personal financial gain, are in attendance now. The rest have very personal reasons for wanting the budget to pass unchallenged and unchanged. Their interests do not include whether or not any of us can afford the tax request they make and, interestingly, they don't care if all the money being spent is really, measurably, making a hill of beans difference educationally.

I find it ironic that most of the people I know, who wouldn't allow themselves to be "snowed" by anyone, allow the least objective group there is to decide how much money they should spend on education. It is also ironic that most of those same people learned more in less time, and without all the bells and whistles everybody wants today. 

It should also be noted that the people reporting test scores can have a field day making the statistics represent the facts any which way is convenient. They can also change the tests given so we can't make any meaningful comparisons. Just how many students do we have that are below above average? Anybody know? I expect all students to reach average and 90 percent of those to be above and beyond. I don't believe that is an unreasonable expectation given that we spend as much as any high end private school and our teachers have degrees beyond what is necessary for teaching the material being taught. So what gives? How is it that any child leaves Harwood unable to read, write, or compute? I find it hard to believe that I am the only person here who finds these statistics nauseating. Eleventh-graders not reading! Fumbling in math! Unable to write!

Perhaps I think differently than most. You tell me. I read "A Nation At Risk" 30-some years ago. The federal Department of Education predicted we would be behind the eight-ball now if we didn't make sweeping changes then. Well, here we are. Ironically, it is educators and parents who put up the biggest barriers against change, even knowing those changes will improve the chances for a better education for children.

Everyone puts themselves first, don't kid yourself. If parents and teachers didn't, children would go to school with the understanding that it is their job to learn and we would have a completely different school day and yearly calendar. If teachers didn't, children wouldn't be out of their classrooms as much as they are. If principals and superintendents didn't, they would be using the best of the best curriculums in every school and we'd be able to replace teachers based on performance and not some mumbo jumbo evaluation they've created for themselves that allows an ineffective teacher to remain for years working on improvements. Principals and teachers want the respect they deserve but are not willing to change the system they work under. The notion that educators are on the same level as doctors, lawyers, business owners, judges, and other professionals who work until the job gets done and don't automatically get salary increases for breathing, or paid to learn more, or work only 190 days a year (if that!!) is absurd. 

They don't have to worry about employees, overhead, tax laws, or even failure to produce anything. They don't have to have insurance against malpractice. Who sues an educator for not doing the job they got paid to do and didn't? We need people who are willing to make changes and board members willing to demand them.

Our system is very broken and it needs all the voters to fix it. Parents and educators won't fix it. I hope people participated Town Meeting Day. Just don't complain if you do nothing!

Stager lives in Warren.


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