The party line

A lesson I learned the hard way as a young second lieutenant in South Korea was that bottom dogs don't challenge, even inadvertently, top dog policy.

The official doctrine, in the immediate post-shooting-war environment, was that the South Koreans were our friends and allies, and when they shot at us while drunk or stole military cargo off the excruciatingly-slow (bandits could and did jump on and off at will) supply trains north from the port of Pusan to the DMZ, we were supposed to grin and bear it for the sake of U.N. unanimity.

My transgression was to organize an informal squad visit to the village of Munsan-Ni near Freedom Bridge to re-possess some badly needed U.S. Army issue insulated boots and mittens (which had never gotten to our troops) at bayonet point from black-market street peddlers. Somehow it was duly noted and then formally and sharply rebuked at battalion headquarters.

Far more politically sensitive than this writer is Vermont Tax Commissioner Tom Pelham. Tom is highly skilled and knowledgeable in educational finance; he wrote an op-ed in a Vermont newspaper recently on cost-saving in public education. He obediently avoided identifying the budget elephant in the room, because his boss, the Guv, doesn't want him to.

The budget elephant is Vermont's lowest-in-the-nation pupil-teacher ratio or smallest average class size (technically different but from a practical viewpoint, the same problem); this consumes about 60 percent of overall public education spending. No other category even comes close.

Administration requires about 8 percent (capital outlay and debt service for new construction are twice as large, at about 15 percent); nevertheless it's administration which is the preferred target of the commissioner's editorial angst, because it consumes in Vermont about $1100 per pupil annually, out of a total of $13,000.

"The average state cost was $697," he wrote as a point-prover.

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