Those of us who have been around for too long remember all sorts of things about the now-gone Vermont; the Vermont of frugal, taciturn, and conservative Yankees which we are supposed to forget now.
One example, admittedly minor in the overall scheme of things, is (or was) the three-ring binder which used to occupy shelf space at the Vermont Education Department; there was a page in it for each public school in the state, and on that page there were such graphics as a building photograph and such facts as date and cost of construction, square footage, inventory of rooms and sizes, and its officially-designated student capacity.
I was first introduced to this notebook by Rupert Spencer, who ran the facilities-oversight office within the education department back in the late 1950s and early 60s. He did his job singlehandedly but today his tasks are handled by about a half dozen educrats at 116 State St. in Montpelier.
In those days, if you had an interest in the proposed new school in the East Overshoe School District, you could call or visit with Rupert Spencer. Hed haul out the notebook, turn to the appropriate page, and together youd compare actual and projected enrollment and existing capacity; you could see whether a formally-defined overcrowding conditionthen pretty much a critical prerequisite for him to authorize 30 percent state aid for new constructionactually existed or would soon exist.
Spencer died in the mid-1960s and his chair was subsequently occupied by more recent names such as Fabian and Ryan, but Spencers notebooktogether with the underlying idea that school building capacity was publicly-available informationsurvived into the mid-1980s. I dont known when it was tossed into the memory hole.
Dont ask your typical recent high school grad about this phrase in George Orwells 1984, written just after WWII, but older and better-read folks will remember the novel in which he describes a future wherein government consigns to the memory hole any information from the past which might conflict with what it wants citizens of the present to know and believe.
Heres a line from 1984 Chapter 3:
This, thought Winston, was the most frightening aspect of the Party regime, that it could obliterate memory
This is just as more recent governments have done in areas of both greater and lesser overall importance, such as the now-vanished school-building inventory binder of the Vermont Education Department.
Now, the official party line is that no such notebook exists or ever existed, although education department attorney Robert Reedy while arguing in a Vermont State House hearing on school construction costs about a score of years ago, that the notebook didnt exist any more because the legislature had denied the department the funds to maintain it (not a verbatim quote, but close enough).
The subject had come up because my role at the hearing was to compare historic square footage per pupil with more recent construction projects. I cited a number of then-new examples wherein, even though enrollments had already begun their continuing decline, new building programs were proliferating everywhere. Invariably the result was a lot more square footage (and therefore higher facilities costs) per pupil than had been the norm in the recent past. This fact still remains the norm across the nation as recent building surveys in the trade magazine School Planning and Management illustrate.
You can run this analysis for yourself, I testified at the hearing. Just get your local building capacity and square footage from the education departments notebook and compare it with your enrollment and projections. The reply: Dont call us, said attorney Reedy. We couldnt afford to maintain the notebook. (Again, not a word-for-word quote but close.)
One of the benchmarks by which citizens and taxpayers could evaluate the legitimacy of school construction proposals was destroyed by the decision to memory-hole Spencers three-ring binder. By accident? I doubt it.
More next week.