As school boards around Vermont begin budgeting for the 2018-2019 school year, Secretary Rebecca Holcombe from the Vermont Agency of Education sent a memo regarding staffing ratios and their effect on the cost of education.

“Unless we bring staffing levels in line with our smaller numbers of students, we will be bearing very high education costs that are unlikely to contribute to better student outcomes,” Holcombe wrote in her opening paragraph.

Holcombe explained that Vermont’s class sizes are well below what most states consider small and although Vermonters love their “micro systems,” there is no evidence that points to better student performance.

“Educational researchers typically define a ‘small class’ as being fewer than 20 students. In Vermont, our classes are half as big as what other states consider small,” Holcombe wrote.

Vermont has the lowest student-to-teacher ratio, 10.55, in the entire country and is far from the second lowest, Maine, which has 12.22. Vermont has maintained the lowest ratio for the past four years, and the lower the per-pupil ratio the higher the education cost is to taxpayers throughout the state, according to Holcombe.

Holcombe notes that the number of teachers in Vermont is declining, but at the same time the number of support staff is increasing.

At the end of her memo, Holcombe asked that school administrators and boards ask themselves questions as they put together their budgets: How many administrators does a school need? How many staff members per pupil does a school need? How many teachers and how many paraprofessionals?

This month the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board will hear an initial budget presentation put together by HUUSD administrators.

HUUSD Superintended Brigid Nease explained in an email that the school district’s board and administrators refer to the stated questions each year during the budget process.

“The ability for HUUSD to adjust ratios, realize sustainable savings and provide more opportunities for our students rests in a comprehensive redesign of our school delivery system,” Nease wrote. She will be writing a position paper on this topic later this year and the school district will be engaging the community from there.