By Tim Jerman
We are now adjourned and summer has begun. I’ve written a lot this year about our education bill, H.361, but there were some late provisions that need mention, because of the local implications for tax relief both short and long term. As you probably know, Essex, Essex Junction and Westford have a school study committee hard at work on determining whether to consider a RED, or Regional Education District for our community. A RED would consolidate the district (Essex Town is not currently a member of the supervisory union) under one board with proportional representation from each community. Existing local boards could remain in place under the RED, with specified responsibilities agreed upon in advance. The study group has asked for citizen input on whether to move forward. I would urge anyone interested to contact them or attend a meeting. Times are posted on Front Porch Forum and the CCSU website. The Essex Reporter had a good article on the study recently.
I will point out that the Senate added to H.361 a provision that accelerated enhanced incentives to form a new supervisory district. This means that if the RED study goes forward on its current timetable and receives a positive vote from the community, we will receive tax reductions for five years on top of any savings from lower spending encouraged by other parts of the legislation. The “bonus” for early participation is scaled from $.10, .08, .06, .04 to .02 in the fifth year. This means significant savings for all property taxpayers, and lowers the pressure on municipal taxes as well by lowering the overall amount we all pay. There are a lot of other potential areas for savings and enhanced academic opportunities, so let the study committee know your thoughts. A bonus the committee is discussing is busing for the entire district. I can say that in many years of campaigning, the most oft-requested service in the village that I hear from voters is school busing.
This was a very productive session, with landmark legislation not just in education but in water quality and renewable energy, which is a booming jobs sector in the state. Would it surprise you to know that last week’s ribbon-cutting on the Whitcomb Farm in the Junction was for the largest solar project in the state? It will provide clean energy and help the farm survive for future generations to enjoy.
One of the pleasures of this hard-working session in my committee was the bi-partisanship that produced unanimous votes on many bills. Unfortunately, when the session ends, politics takes over and the impression is given that nothing of substance was done and members didn’t work together. None of the bills passed ever goes as far as some would like; that is the nature of the process of getting 180 people plus the governor to have input. It is sometimes amusing after the session to see the majority pummeled from the right for not making tough budget decisions and from the left for cutting way too much from needed programs and not spending enough.
I will sign off for the year by noting one other important issue decided late in the session. Three years ago I lost badly on a vote that expanded circumstances under which individuals could choose to opt out of vaccinations for their children attending public schools. Fast forward since then to measles outbreaks, high rates of pertussis, and lower “herd” immunity rates in Vermont schools. After a lengthy debate, the philosophical exemption was removed by a majority vote, a very different outcome from the last debate.
I support the vote, and feel strongly that public health trumps individual choice when it involves immunizations from disease. I’m grateful for all the local support for this vote.
Have a great summer and hope to see everyone at the farmers’ market, block party, and other events! It remains a great honor to serve Essex Junction.
Tim Jerman represents Essex Junction in the Vermont House of Representatives.