Dear Community of Colchester,
The school budget is put to bed, so to speak, and we hopefully await Colchester residents’ support of our efforts. Reflecting back on our work, I recall a well-written article by Emerson Lynn, co-publisher of the Colchester Sun. In his January 2 article entitled “An Opportunity, Not a Crisis for Vermont,” he stressed the need for school districts to find constructive ways to fund education—to reorganize, to do more with less, and to reinvent the way we work, not only for cost savings but also for the betterment of our students. As a board member who has been looking at the numbers over the past few years and more recently during this year’s budget process, I ask how?
I have been observing or have been involved in Colchester education for the past thirty-five years. I’ve seen smarter and more energetic individuals come before me to serve the community, and now, as the chair of the Colchester School Board, I am walking the same path, examining the same issues, and dealing with the same taxation issue as those who came before me. Why? There seems to be a perception among taxpayers that the school board has absolute power with regard to the operation of the schools—but in fact, many of the school board’s decisions are predicated on guidelines mandated by the federal and/or state government. In the past, some have pointed fingers at school boards and suggested this or that as the source of a problem. However, unless the state legislators formulate changes to schools’ operation and funding, I see little flexibility to make major changes in the local school budget.
I would love for Governor Shumlin and Emerson Lynn to come into our Central Office with their best bean counters and try to find more than bubble gum money that we are overspending in our school budget. I believe the school board members and the district’s administrators take pride in the educational accomplishments here in Colchester. Our per-pupil spending is below state average and one of the lowest in Chittenden County. Our test scores are some of the best in the state. We have done more with less, which speaks very well for the district’s employees. Those who have examined our operation have remarked about our efficiency—including Lawrence O. Picus and Associates, who conducted an extensive case study of Colchester High School at the request of the Vermont State Legislature in order to ascertain how such improvements in academic performance were accomplished without high spending and without high teacher salaries. The report regales CHS as a model for other high schools across the state.
We have to play by the rules laid down for us, and these rules cost money. To lower the cost of doing business in the Colchester School District, our legislature needs to change the rules. My fellow board members and I live in this community and have families in this community … friends and neighbors that we see daily. If we had a magic wand to lower taxes while continuing to offer the same quality of education and still follow the guidelines established by the federal government, would we not shout out to the world that we had found the secret to budgeting?
I do not serve as the school board chair for the money or the power; I suspect that most of the folks in Colchester would not recognize me on the street. I serve because, when the students of Colchester enter the work force or apply to Saint Michael’s College, Middlebury College, or any other college of their choice, I hope that our efforts within the school district allow them to excel in such endeavors.
Michael H. Rogers
Colchester School Board
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