Tomorrow, I will participate in that peculiar New Hampshire rite called the "warrant vote," which involves walking into Winnacunett High School, where an election worker will hand me a paper package no thicker than the Encyclopedia Brittanica and I will get to vote on whether or not Mrs. Lamprey should be allowed to plant mums on the other side of the sidewalk in front of her house, which is actually town land.
In the Live Free of Die state I seem to have more say over my neighbors than I ever had in the anonymous environs of Montgomery County, Maryland, where none of my neighbors seemed to care what I planted or where and where my neighbor demolished his house and erected a McMansion which towered over my house and cast it into shadow over mine and I never got to vote on that.
New Hampshire's demographics tell a lot about what ails the state. There are 1.3 million people living in the state. It's population is the 2nd oldest in the nation and its rate of aging is tops. Of that 1.3 million people over 500,000 are over 50. Many of these people are making less money than they did 5 years ago.
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In Montgomery County, Maryland, there was one school district. In New Hampshire there are 289. In Montgomery County a single police force policed the 1 million inhabitants. In New Hampshire, Rye, Hampton, North Hampton, Stratham, Exeter each has its own police force. Towns so small you hardly know you have driven through them have their own police and fire departments.
There are 54,000 people between 15 and 17 in New Hampshire. There are 110,00 people between the age 50-54 and 95,000 between ages 55-59.
Which is to say, there are a lot more folks around or approaching retirement than there are high school age kids in the state. People over 65 are 150,000 which is roughly three times the number of high school age kids.
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The wonder is that high school kids get any money at all in New Hampshire, and yet New Hampshire spends $15,283 on each student while Montgomery County spends $15,421, which does not sound like much of a difference, but that places Montgomery County 3rd in spending behind only New York City and Baltimore. What all this means is the dollar amount spent in New Hampshire is not all that different from other municipalities around the country, but the resources available to a kid at Winnacunet or Exeter cannot compare to what kids at Montgomery County schools have. Which is to say, the money somehow seems to buy more outside New Hampshire.
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The public high school down the street from me in Montgomery County was built 50 years ago, then demolished and rebuilt 25 years later. Nobody bothered to ask the taxpayers; the county has a schedule for infrastructure. Now there is a warrant article about refurbishing the middle school in Hampton and the town gets a vote.
The high school in Montgomery County has courses in music theory, a jazz band, an orchestra, a wind ensemble, a marching band and a music program which might match up with Julliard in ambition if not realization. There are advance placement courses taught by recruits from the Bronx High School of Science faculty and 97% of graduates go to college.
When my son went there, roughly a third of the teachers were uninspiring and just waiting for retirement, a third were stars and the rest somewhere in between. The curriculum was increasingly directed and delivered from the central planning and curriculum office in the County. It was by no means a perfect school system, more competition than cognition, but it was a system which delivered a lot more for the buck than we see here locally in New Hampshire, likely because sometimes economies of scale work, but mostly because the demographics of the county are much younger and the citizens fully committed to the idea of bragging about what great schools they have. It is true ads for real estate feature the phrase, "Whitman School District" or "Churchill School District."
I am not sure why New Hampshire prefers to atomize government. Does having a local police department, fire department and high school actually improve quality or does it mean that local selectmen or school board members can distribute favors with more discretion?
I do know that even in a senescent state, still, one of the most important things going on is the care and feeding and education of its young. I suspect local government with local control is not always better. Sometimes, it means local parochialism can be enforced to the detriment of kids who have to go out and compete in a more global world.
|In the South, local control wasn't such a good thing.|