Legislative race: Build stronger economy, healthier communities

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To help voters prepare for the state and national election to be held Tuesday, Nov. 6, the Brattleboro Reformer asked all candidates running in contested races in Windham County to submit a profile outlining their experience and their position on the issues. On the ballot for the Windham 1 House seat (Guilford and Vernon) are Democrat Sara Coffey, whose response is below, and Republican Patrick Gilligan, who did not submit a profile.

Sara Coffey

Democrat, Windham 1 House seat

(Guilford and Vernon)

I grew up in a large working class Irish family in Massachusetts, where I attended public school and was active in my community. I first came to Vermont 32 years ago to attend Marlboro College and the School for International Training. I then moved to New York City where I worked in the non-profit cultural sector and earned a master's degree from NYU. I returned to Vermont in 2004 with my husband, Dave, to raise our two children, Izzy and Daniel. We now live in Guilford and have started two small businesses: Guilford Sound and Vermont Performance Lab, a community-based organization that links art making with civic engagement.

I have served on several school associations and boards including Marlboro College and the Governor's Institutes of Vermont. I have been an active member of the Broad Brook Grange and Guilford's 250th committee, and I now serve as president of the Broad Brook Community Center. I have twice been elected as Justice of the Peace in Guilford and serve on the Board of Civil Authority. I was recently appointed to the State of Vermont's Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panel.

I'm running for office because I care deeply about the future of our small rural communities. I believe that by working together we can rewrite the rules so that families can care for and support themselves, and that this will ultimately boost the economy and build stronger, healthier communities.

Demographic trends

I'm concerned about the growing numbers of children living in poverty, the aging demographic in Windham County, and the trend that young people are not returning to our state. To address these issues, my top priority is strengthening our local economy through innovative approaches to workforce development, education and training, job creation and support for entrepreneurs and digital workers.

To drive the economy, we need to make investments in technological advancement, and I also plan to continue the work I have been doing with SeVEDS to ensure that the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for Southern Vermont includes a focus on the creative economy. Right now Vermont's creative sector contributes over 8 percent to our state's economy and including it in our region's economic development strategy is key to strengthening our rural economy. To help low-income Vermonters, I will work to ensure that our minimum wage gives everyone the opportunity to earn a livable income. I will also work with and advocate for small family farms so that we can ensure that this vital sector can compete and thrive economically.

As a legislator, I would focus my efforts on policies and funding that strengthen our local economy and make Vermont more affordable for working families, local businesses and seniors. Key issues like education, housing, healthcare, childcare and access to technology are integral to our ability to ensure a thriving economy and healthy, vibrant communities.

School funding

I think to be more transparent and fair, we need to reform how we generate revenue for public education so that it is based on one's ability to pay rather than one's property values. We also need to address how our education system interacts with the Department of Human Services to deliver social services in schools, since this is currently one of the driving costs in education. I want to increase access to high quality affordable childcare and pre-kindergarten for every child, and I will also work to improve access to affordable housing and health insurance.

Another key issue I will focus on is improving cell phone technology and high-speed internet service to make it easier for small businesses to succeed and to help attract digital workers and entrepreneurs to our communities.

Other issues that our Legislature can address to support local businesses and the workforce are affordable housing, healthcare, childcare, paid family leave and transportation. When these types of services are accessible and affordable to workers, businesses can better focus on increasing growth and wages. Legislators can also work together to support investments in regional marketing to promote local businesses and showcase southern Vermont in a way that helps attract workers, customers and tourism dollars.

Act 46

If elected to the Legislature, my priority in addressing Act 46 will be to work with Vernon and Guilford to do whatever I can to keep our schools open and to maintain strong local school board representation for small schools.

The towns and school boards in Guilford and Vernon have taken two different approaches to meeting the law under Act 46, and our school boards presented different proposals to Secretary of Education. On Oct. 17, the Vermont Board of Education took a preliminary vote and recommended that Guilford be part of a merged district and Vernon remain independent.

In this newly evolving scenario, addressing the distinct needs of the schools in our two towns will require creative thinking, engagement and advocacy from the community. I am committed to finding innovative, cost-effective models that will allow our schools to be flexible and responsive so that they can be the centers we need to build strong and vibrant

communities.

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