Vermont’s Staff to Student Ratio
According to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal-Year 2017, Vermont had 22,500 “Local Government Education Employees”, or public school employees, in 2016. Teachers accounted for 8,258 of these employees and Administrative Heads (Superintendents, Principals, Tech Center Directors, Business Managers and Special Education Directors) for a further 552 employees. The balance of 13,690 public school employees must include maintenance workers, food service employees, bus drivers and other administrative and support personnel.
In 2016, Vermont had 88,854 publically funded students, of which 84,081 attended a public school. So, for every public school system employee in Vermont, there are only 3.7 public school students.
A Small State With Many Schools
At the end of 2017, Vermont had 295 public schools and 15 Technical Centers. Most of Vermont’s schools are smaller than the national average school. Many of these schools, particularly the elementary schools, are very small indeed. Towns like Braintree, Brookfield, Barnard, Pomfret, Shoreham and Stockbridge (to name but a few) all have PreK-6 schools with total enrollments ranging from 50 to 86 students, meaning there are only 7-10 students per grade.
Vermont has a long history and culture of local elementary schools. Unfortunately, Vermont now has a twenty-year history of shrinking student enrollment that appears unlikely to change any time soon.
Unless schools are consolidated and the number of schools reduced, it’s difficult to see a path toward lower education spending levels.
A High Administrative Burden
So, Vermont has 310 public schools (295 schools plus 15 technical centers) and 338 Public Education Governing and Administrative Entities. There are 28 more Public Education Governing and Administrative Entities than schools.
Any effort to reduce Vermont’s education expenditures will have to involve a meaningful reduction in administrative entities and costs.
The towns and cities of Vermont like to believe they have control over their local schools and, as a result, there were 278 school districts and 266 school boards at the end of 2017.
The actual level of local control may be different that that perceived by local voters. Federal grants come with federal strings attached that local school boards have little if any influence over. Funding for the state’s public schools is centralized at the state government level and the bands within which local education property taxes are set locally are quite narrow. The curriculum used in local schools needs to comply with the standards set out by the State Board of Education.
The Act 46 merger process now underway in Vermont seeks to reduce the number of school districts and number of school boards. As of December 20, 2017, 148 school districts in 139 towns have agreed to merge into 36 unified school districts. Three merger proposals remain subject to a final vote and three merger proposals were turned-down by voters. This revised school governance structure will be largely in place in 2018 and fully implemented by 2019.
Merging school districts on a regional basis is a good first step. The real test, however, will be if costs can actually be taken out of the system. Will there be fewer Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, Business Managers, Special Education Directors, Technical Center Directors and all their supporting staff? Will these new unified school districts consolidate school facilities and reduce instructional staff? Shuffling the chairs on the deck in one thing. Removing chairs is another thing entirely.