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Thread: A little read for EC skiers....
03-04-2006, 09:18 AM #1
A little read for EC skiers....
March 4, 2006
Vermont Losing Prized Resource as Young Depart
By PAM BELLUCK
POULTNEY, Vt. — Not long ago, Ray Pentkowski, the principal of Poultney Elementary School, published an unusual request in the school newsletter. Please, he urged parents, have more babies. The school desperately needs them.
He was half joking, but the problem is real. His school, down to 208 children, has lost a third of its student population since 1999 and must cut staff levels, he said, "for the first time in my memory."
Poultney, a town of 3,600 bordering New York, is just one example of a situation that increasingly alarms many in Vermont. This state of beautiful mountains and popular ski resorts, once a magnet for back-to-the-landers, is losing young people at a precipitous clip.
Vermont, with a population of about 620,000, now has the lowest birth rate among states. Three-quarters of its public schools have lost children since 2000.
Vermont also has the highest rate of students attending college out of their home state — 57 percent, up from 36 percent 20 years ago. Many do not move back. The total number of 20- to 34-year-olds in Vermont has shrunk by 19 percent since 1990.
Vermont's governor, Jim Douglas, is treating the situation like a crisis. He proposes making Vermont the "Silicon Valley" of environmental technology companies to lure businesses and workers; giving college scholarships requiring students to stay in Vermont for three years after graduating; relaxing once-sacrosanct environmentally driven building restrictions in some areas to encourage more housing; and campaigning in high schools and elementary schools to encourage students "to focus now on making a plan to stay in Vermont," said Jason Gibbs, a spokesman for Mr. Douglas.
Mr. Douglas said: "There's an exodus of young people. It's dramatic. We need to reverse it. The consequences of not acting are severe."
While Vermont's population of young people shrinks, the number of older residents is multiplying because Vermont increasingly attracts retirees from other states. It is now the second-oldest state, behind Maine. Arthur Woolf, an economist at the University of Vermont, said that by 2030, there would be only two working-age Vermonters for every retiree.
Without more working people, Mr. Douglas said, "we won't have tax revenue for anything other than public education and Medicaid. There'll be no money for anything else."
The situation stems from what Robert G. Clarke, chancellor of Vermont's state colleges, calls "a perfect demographic storm" involving jobs, housing, the environment, education, even skiing.
The back-to-the-land influx of the 1960's, 70's and 80's, which once had Vermont growing faster than the country as a whole, has dissipated, Professor Woolf said. Vermont may have lost some cachet for the people often referred to as "flatlanders."
"If you live in New York or Boston and you want to get away from it all, these days it's just as cheap to fly out to Boise, Idaho, or Montana," Professor Woolf said.
Fewer babies are being born in part because Vermont has few immigrants, who tend to have larger families. Vermont has also lost many good-paying jobs, driving away many well-educated young people and further discouraging businesses.
Zachary Menchini, 21, left Shaftsbury, Vt., for Syracuse University and does not expect to return until he retires. Graduating, with interests in finance and nonprofit housing, he searched unsuccessfully for jobs in Burlington, Vermont's largest city.
"Vermont just doesn't offer many opportunities," he said. "For someone who's young and trying to make a name for himself, it's just not really the best environment."
Governor Douglas said one executive had told him: "My business is growing, my orders are increasing, my markets are branching out. I would like to grow in Vermont, but I'm not sure I can find enough workers."
The worker shortage recently forced Mr. Douglas to say he would not drive out illegal immigrants working on Vermont's dairy farms.
"I respect the laws of the United States, of course," Mr. Douglas said. "But the cows have to be milked."
There is also a serious housing shortage, with mountains and environmental restrictions barring building in many places.
New houses are mostly built for affluent second-home owners who come for skiing or summer. In Poultney, on Lake St. Catherine, nonresidents own 56 percent of the homes, up from 38 percent in 1999. In Ludlow, a ski area, year-round residents own only 16 percent of homes.
Expensive new construction "makes it a challenge for a young working family," said Frank Heald, Ludlow's municipal manager.
Vermont has the most colleges per capita in the nation and is full of out-of-state students who leave after graduating. But Vermonters often find tuition lower elsewhere because Vermont's colleges and universities get less state financing.
Besides, with the biggest city having only 40,000 people, "growing up in Vermont can feel like a straitjacket," said Nicholas Reid, 22, who was raised on a farm in Brookfield but now lives near Boston. "There wasn't a lot of opportunity for diversity."
Jennifer Black of Walden, Vt., now in Stoneham, Mass., said she contemplated returning, with two children for Vermont's schools. But jobs for her husband, a defense industry engineer, are "hard to come by" in Vermont, as are some conveniences.
"When I'm up there visiting, I think I would love to live up there," said Ms. Black, 36. "The air's so fresh." But, she added, "you have to drive half an hour to a grocery store. I can walk to a grocery store from here. There's a place where my kids can take swimming lessons readily available here."
Most people moving to Vermont are well-educated retirees like Dale Lott, 71, from New Jersey, who bought a Victorian Gothic house in Poultney for just over $100,000.
Some of Governor Douglas's proposals are controversial, like scholarships to be financed with tobacco settlement money, which some legislators want for health care.
And Daniel M. Fogel, the University of Vermont's president, says some have not grasped the seriousness of the problem. They believe a shrinking population will prevent overdevelopment, but these "antisprawl folks are the very people who tend to value very highly the environmental protections and the social programs, which the state is not going to be able to afford if the working population shrinks," Mr. Fogel said.
In Poultney, a working-class town, it seems as if many young people have heeded the call of a former resident, Horace Greeley, to "go west" — or south or east, for that matter.
"Here's another house that had a few kids, but an elderly retired couple bought it," said Jonas Rosenthal, the town manager. "These people had several kids — they're in Texas now visiting those children."
Anne DeBonis, co-president of Poultney's Chamber of Commerce, said two of her three sons had left Vermont. The third, married with two children, cannot afford a house, living instead in a duplex and renting out part of it to make ends meet.
"You spend your life raising these wonderful individuals and they leave," said Pattie McCoy, Poultney's town clerk, who has two daughters out of state and a third in high school. "You're exporting your best product, that's what you're doing."
It isn't necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice. There are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia.