Chris in S. Burlington | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Chris in S. Burlington 
Member since Feb 26, 2014



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Re: “No Magic Formula: Education Finance Reform Falters

Logical result of Brigham's aspirational ideal (when viewed in light of Education Secretary Rebecca Holcomb's decision to deny Burlington its own funding for its comparatively greater needs) would be for Ms Holcomb to mandate that each town must host equal proportion of demographics, low income, ESL, middle income, higher income, etc. This would solve the unintended result of Brigham being used to reduce equality of educational opportunity.

However, since forcibly moving people to achieve this demographic result is understandably not politically feasible, it simply underlines the fact that Brigham and Act 60's "equity" and "equality of educational opportunity" is great theoretical ideal but quite complicated and unrealistic when the rubber meets the road.

3 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Chris in S. Burlington on 03/15/2018 at 2:08 AM

Re: “No Magic Formula: Education Finance Reform Falters

Lot of talk about "equity" in Brigham decision. For example, to justify consolidating school financing decision-making to Montpelier and away from local decision-makers, Supreme Court cited how unfair it was that employees of ski resorts sometimes live in other towns that "bear the financial burden of development, while reaping none of the tax advantages" (although presumably, in fact, the ski resort towns actually have more development and surrounding towns less). Also lots of justified concern back then about poorer, shrinking rural school districts. Some reportedly saw Brigham as way to "save" these districts. Repeated references to equity and right to equal educational opportunity.

Irony, however, is that rural school districts have continued to shrink. VT's K-12 statewide school enrollment has declined from 107,000 in 1997 (when Brigham was decided) to around 85,000 now. Brigham may have even contributed to people leaving Vermont (many anecdotes) and made it less attractive for new people to move here because people feel less invested in their own local school district.

Another irony is the State and Rebecca Holcomb, citing Brigham, told Burlington that although it has comparatively greater proportion of higher needs demographics, including lower income and ESL students, it could no longer use "payments in lieu of taxes" from nonprofits (like hospitals & university) because this is "unfair" under Brigham since other towns don't have this funding source. However, this completely ignores the fact that other school districts do not have these same demographics. So, contrary to its intent, Brigham is instead actually being used to reduce equality of opportunity. I am surprised Burlington has not sued the State over this decision.

2 likes, 4 dislikes
Posted by Chris in S. Burlington on 03/15/2018 at 1:58 AM

Re: “No Magic Formula: Education Finance Reform Falters

Janet Ancel says she wants "to strengthen the connection between school districts' spending decisions and their tax rates." Totally agree with her. However, proposals discussed above are not necessarily the way to do this.

Way to do this is to overturn well-intentioned but disastrous Brigham decision (via state constitutional amendment, if necessary). Let Vermont rejoin majority of rest of America in primarily funding local schools locally, i.e., via local property taxes that go to the local school, instead of to the state legislature and then redistributed under a formula so complicated that only 3 or 4 people in the entire state understand it (as I've been told by several state legislators).

Even Dave Sharpe, the now retiring Chair of the House Education Committee, in charge of this very matter, admitted he does not fully understand it! Mr. Sharpe should be respected for his service. It just underlines how problematic Brigham & Act 60 are when even the Chair of the House Education Committee cannot explain it. As was reported a few years ago, Mr. Sharpe even gave inaccurate guidance to various school districts and superintendents with questions about Act 46 and its interplay with Act 60, etc. that caused several school districts to pursue improper school budgets.

The income tax proposal is particularly problematic because the income tax varies significantly year to year. It is less consistent than the property tax. And could, like Brigham itself, create many unintended negative consequences. For example, the unintended result of encouraging some geographically mobile higher income people to flee the state in order to avoid increased taxation, thereby actually exacerbating school financing instead of strengthening it.

2 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Chris in S. Burlington on 03/15/2018 at 1:41 AM

Re: “Woman on the Rise: Becca Balint's Ascent From Stay-at-Home Mom to Senate Majority Leader

Ms. Balint sounds like great addition to the House and to legislative leadership. Many of us share Ms. Balint's concerns for nation's long-term direction. Article highlights something, however, that seems potentially in contrast with Ms. Balint's egalitarian spirit.

"Balint has assembled an informal network of women who work in powerful positions across all three branches of government and beyond. She's been known to invite them over for gin and tonics on Skoglund's back porch to share the struggles of working in male-dominated arenas."

When you count the State Senate along with the House, Vermont is tied with Arizona for most women in state legislature at 40% (Rutgers Center on Women in American Politics). 40% is not majority but a male-dominated arena? The House Majority Leader (Jill Krowinski); the Senate Majority Leader (Balint); and Speaker of the House (Mitzi Johnson) are all women.

Justice Skoglund serves on a 5 member Supreme Court. 3 of the 5 members are women.

Is VT Supreme Court a male dominated arena?

Closed-door, single-gender meetings were rightfully criticized 30 and 40 years ago when it was the "good ol' boys network." Whether bunch of guys on golf course not inviting female colleagues, or women with gin and tonics excluding others, is it not just as wrong today? Ms. Balint emphasizes that "we are all elected as equals" & doesn't always play out that way in the building. Perhaps people of all genders, whether powerful or not, could simply strive to treat each other equally and as individual human beings - whether inside or outside the building.

9 likes, 9 dislikes
Posted by Chris in S. Burlington on 02/23/2018 at 2:40 AM

Re: “Pay What? Vermont's $9.2 Million Childcare Crisis

Senator Sirotkin has generally been great in terms of privacy issues and Ralph Nader-esque consumer-focused issues. Seeking to protect consumer data, for example, in wake of Equifax hack.

However, we are already in insane property tax environment of ever rising taxes, and Senator Sirotkin now wants additional unfunded childcare mandate? Shouldn't we know how it is going to be paid for before passing it?

K-12 statewide enrollment declined from 107,000 in 1997 to around 85,000 now but taxes keep rising. Coincidentally, Brigham decision that began consolidating school funding power in Montpelier and away from local school districts was issued in 1997. May have made sense then but proven disastrous over 2 decades. Zero transparency on property tax bills. No disclosure on how much money is going to your own school district versus to Montpelier.

Some legislators want to shift education funding to statewide income tax, which is even less consistent year to year than property tax (and encourages geographically mobile higher income people to flee Vermont).

Perhaps instead we should stop passing unfunded mandates? And fund our K-12 schools the way nearly every other place in the nation does. Locally.

11 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Chris in S. Burlington on 02/22/2018 at 2:39 AM

Re: “Pay What? Vermont's $9.2 Million Childcare Crisis

One factor overlooked in closing of the 176 childcares is impact of Peter Shumlin and his signature on Sarah Buxton's unfunded universal pre-k legislation. Act 166. It had temporary federal grant that will now expire this year and put that funding requirement on all Vermont taxpayers. Related rulings from Shumlin administration imposed over 100 pages of new regulations. Unbelievable minutiae such as daily cleaning of refrigerators; and big impact stuff like new employee education requirements (that both hurt immigrant refugee run childcares; & also essentially ruled that 55 year old women who had raised 5 of their own children successfully but who did not go to college were no longer "qualified").

Speaking as parent of former preschooler who lived through this, I can tell you the 55 year old woman is just as qualified as 26 year old who just finished child development graduate degree but no real world experience. Both are valuable.

After Act 166, costs went up (to comply with unfunded mandates); childcare workers generally not making more $; and many places closed because of the new burdens (putting those workers on street and leaving parents to hold the bag). "Subsidy" to parents was eaten up by childcares having to increase costs to comply.

Whether intended or not, Montpelier has done real harm here. It is not the state's responsibility to raise our children. Let's repeal Act 166 & let hundreds of childcares open back up to help families & children across the state.

17 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Chris in S. Burlington on 02/22/2018 at 1:42 AM

Re: “Burlington School Board Chair Porter Steps Down

Penelope, yes, those are important values to stand up for. There is no one against people speaking out candidly. That is the power of the First Amendment. Everyone is against corruption and disgusting behavior. At the same time, without a video of the referenced conversation, it is difficult for anyone to judge what really was said.

What we know is Mark Porter is a taxpayer who has provided leadership to try and protect taxpayers given an awful school funding regime created by Brigham and Act 60. When Porter arrived, there was a lot to cleanup from deficits of the years before.

What we also know is Jeff Wick has his own children currently enrolled in Burlington schools; volunteers in the schools; (and also is taxpayer).

They each have skin in the game, in different ways. They each bring valuable perspectives. Ad hominem attacks (that are not backed up with hard evidence) is not usually display of great leadership. No idea if this was just temporary frustration or emblematic of Porter's style.

Porter certainly deserves gratitude for his service and dedication (as do other school board members). He has been willing to take the time to try to steer things as he believes best serves the district.

It turns out not all community members agree with Porter's direction. Based on reports of the last school board meeting and fact that there are many new school board candidates (including one directly challenging in Porter's district), Mr. Porter appears frustrated that not everyone agrees with him.

What is not entirely clear is whether he is a whistle blower vs. simply frustrated that some taxpayers, parents and voters have disagreed with some of the budget & hiring & firing decisions during his & Yaw Obeng's tenure. Would want to see more evidence.

2 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Chris in S. Burlington on 02/14/2018 at 3:37 PM

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