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Two percent solution

If you lack the imagination to invent a London-based private eye (with a sharp M.D. sidekick) as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did in the late 1800s, you can always ripoff the author's inventiveness by appropriating the fictional characters (mix in a few historical ones), give one of them a heroin addiction and the other a cure and-voila!-you can call your opus "The Seven Percent Solution" and even get the little unoriginal tale turned into a Hollywood movie.

That's what screenwriter-director Nicholas Meyer did back in the mid-1970s. His Holmes/Watson theft left no lasting literary footprint, but his title did (which was even a variation on Conan Doyle's own text); it has since been applied to everything from debt-growth analysis to diabetes management.

Other numbers have been used as well; one is "the two percent solution", a 2005 political treatise by Matthew Miller. It's now a Sierra Club catch-phrase for carbon-footprint reduction.

Not to be outdone, the Vermont Education Department has its own "two percent solution": a pro forma budget-cut suggestion to local school districts.

Since annual K-12 spending is now above $1.4B, two percent works out to all of $23MM.

As I've laid out the basic math in previous columns, this amount could be captured by raising the pupil-teacher ratio from 10-to-1 to 12-to-1, about where it was in the cave-dweller school days of the previous decade.

A recent math exercise by Hugh Kemper demonstrates the political impossibility of any 2 percent solution based on any such primitive behavior as a public-school-teacher Reduction-in-Force: he calculates that going from 10.9 to 11.8 in median class size (approximately the same as p/t ratio) would require the RIFing of 837 teachers, losing their votes and all of their extended families' votes as well.

Going to a class size of an educationally punitive 13 would sidewalk -gasp-1,500. When class sizes, nationwide, were twice that number-mid-1960s-test scores were marginally higher and per-pupil costs were a lot lower, but the present-day educator-vote trumps all such considerations.

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