By Stephen Seitz
BARNARD — Randall Szott has announced his candidacy for the Vermont House of Representatives seat in the Windsor 4-1 legislative district.
The district comprises the towns of Barnard, Pomfret and Hartland. Szott, a Democrat, is running to replace Susan Buckholtz, who is not running again this year.
Szott is currently the director of Weston’s public library. Szott is also a member of the Barnard Planning Commission and has finished a term in the local school board. If elected, his top three priorities would be “to find a simpler, fairer way to pay for education, relieving Vermonters of the ongoing property tax burden; to fight for an economy that is equitable and expands Vermont’s ‘working hands/working lands’ tradition; and to push for environmental policies that promote a resilient, regenerative, and recreational agenda.”
When it comes to health care, Szott favors a single-payer system.
“I think we must find a way to move to a single payer-system,” he wrote in an email. “Despite the rhetoric around education spending, we are actually spending about the same as a share of state GDP on it today as was spent twenty years ago. Health spending as a share of state GDP, on the other hand, has skyrocketed. If Vermont can’t go it alone, it may be possible to form a state/regional partnership that would have the necessary scale, resources, and power to implement a single payer healthcare policy.”
Szott said he is no friend of Act 46, the law requiring school districts to consolidate.
“For some districts the law might work well,” Szott wrote, “but I think the legislation was misguided and have been working diligently to resist the consolidation of our community school (Barnard Academy). The law did include a pathway to avoid straightforward consolidation (sec. 9 AGS – Alternative Governance Structures), but in actual practice we have found that the process appears to have been conducted in less than good faith.”
Though Barnard voted against the merger, the state Agency of Education recommended going ahead with it anyway, a gesture Szott called, “a terrible blow to the democratic process which erodes the standing of our public institutions.”
On the related issue of school security, Szott said that a watchful community would go a long way to keeping schools safe.
“School security is a function of community security,” he wrote. ”Strong, well-connected communities with citizens looking out for each other is the most productive approach to keeping children safe. Being aware of what is happening with our neighbors and fighting social isolation are key. Turning schools into fortresses is akin to relying on medication or surgical intervention for health rather than making substantive lifestyle changes to prevent illness in the first place.”
Szott also discussed several economic issues, including Vermont’s renewable energy industry and the push to bring younger people to Vermont to stay.
As far as renewable energy goes, Szott wrote, “Vermont is a per-capita leader in solar industry employment (1 in every 406 workers) and a leader in female employment in that industry. We need to do everything possible to seize on this momentum, for its economic and environmental benefits. Renewable energy is a key component of any serious approach to addressing climate change and Vermont should be taking the lead on this front.”
Szott said he is in the forefront when it comes to job security. Vermont is an “at-will” state, which means that workers can lose their jobs on any basis cited by the employer.
“I have already been endorsed by the Vermont State Employees Association and have worked many union and non-union jobs,” Szott wrote. “I know which is better. I know how important it is to fight for the protection of workers. There is a coordinated effort to erode job security throughout the country and I will fight back.”
Szott said that there have been modest gains in attracting younger workers to the state.
“According to numbers from the Vermont State Data Center, from 2011-2015 we have actually had a net gain of people in their 20s through 40s moving into the state versus leaving it,” Szott wrote. “It is a small gain so we should still try to find ways to make Vermont affordable as that serves the dual purpose of attracting young people starting families, but also benefits those already here.”
Szott said Barnard has a good model to follow in that regard. “Paid family leave and affordable child care would be key components of this,” he wrote. “In Barnard, we have been providing full day Pre-K with no tuition charged to residents for several years. We have done so while keeping our per pupil costs below regional averages. Unlike elsewhere in the state, our overall student population has not been in decline. We believe our publicly funded, curricularly integrated, tuition free Pre-K is the reason for this.”
Szott cooked professionally for over 15 years in fine dining, as a merchant mariner, and as the school chef at the Prosper Valley School in Pomfret. Szott is on the board of Vermonters for Schools and Community, and active in the Vermont Library Association and the Vermont Creative Network. He lives in Barnard with his wife, a professor at the University of Vermont, and his 13-year-old son.