Video + updated story: Shumlin won’t impose Challenges cuts on schools in 2012

John Nelson, foreground, talks to reporters. Standing behind him: Jeb Spaulding, left, Armando Vilaseca, right

Editor’s note: A write-thru with updates was made at 11:30 a.m., Dec. 23, 2010.

Vermont schools have been given a reprieve from Montpelier’s budget ax.

Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin said on Wednesday the state will not impose $23.2 million in reductions on schools for fiscal year 2012.

Shumlin held a press conference in response to news that 39 out of 62 supervisory unions across the state did not meet individual targets set under Challenges for Change. Last summer, the Vermont Department of Education gave each supervisory union a predetermined reduction figure. On average, schools were asked to cut their budgets by 2.3 percent. On Friday, the department announced that only a handful of districts had cut their budgets by the prescribed amount.

Read previous story.

On Wednesday, Shumlin said he would not trim funding to school districts in fiscal year 2012.

Instead, the state will use $19 million in federal funding as a one-time “bridge” for school districts.

According to a press release from Shumlin’s spokeswoman Alex MacLean: “Local school boards and communities are best left to make their own budget decisions and he (Shumlin) will not ask the Legislature to enforce the voluntary education spending cuts recommended under Challenges for Change. At the same time, he said that local school districts will still receive $23.2 million less from the state this year. While much of that should be made up with the nearly $19 million in federal education stimulus money that the state received earlier this fall, the $19 million is a one-time allocation of funds and school districts should continue to develop fiscally sound budgets so as not to result in increased property taxes.”

“What we’re saying is the arbitrary targets that were imposed on school boards by Montpelier will go away,” Shumlin said at the presser. “The bridge money will be used for its intended purpose — to ensure that we don’t have 350 hardworking teachers and support staff laid off at a time when our schools need them and they need a job.”

Shumlin said the $19 million in temporary funding from the federal government will give “our hardworking school board members and communities the time they need to reduce spending.”

Shumlin will be sending the money directly to schools, and it will represent a 1.67 percent increase over the fiscal 2011 school budgets. At the same time, the state will reduce the General Fund transfer to the Education Fund by $14.4 million, the net amount of the Challenges savings for fiscal year 2012. (The total Challenges amount is $23.2 million — $8.8 million is to be used for a reduction in property taxes.)

Download the Department of Education chart that estimates the amount available to each school district: Estimated Allocation of Federal Education Jobs Fund.

Link to Challenges summary spreadsheet.
Read the Ed Fund Outlook spreadsheet.

Gov. Jim Douglas proposed mandating $23.2 million in cuts to local school districts and using the $19 million to pay down the teacher’s retirement debt obligation.

Unlike his predecessor, Shumlin said his administration would not send a letter to school boards requesting that they find more savings in fiscal year 2012 as the Douglas administration did before the 2010 legislative session.

“We forget sometimes in this discussion that it has become a Montpelier versus school boards conversation over the last few years,” Shumlin said. “Yet we’re all one state with one common goal. And there’s no one who wants to reduce spending with more vigor than our local school boards. The evidence is they had zero based budgeting last year. Why did they do that? They listened to the same voters we did. The message of this team behind me is we’re one family, one team, working together with the best interests of Vermont’s children and the best interests of Vermont’s taxpayers. We understand we need to serve both.”

Vermont has reduced its contribution to the Education Fund two years in a row, thanks to federal stimulus monies. In fiscal years 2010 and 2011, the federal government gave the state $38.6 million in funding for schools and $18.4 million directly to schools. In addition, in 2011, schools reduced their budgets by 2 percent, or about $23 million, which kept the statewide property tax flat.

The state’s General Fund contribution to the Education Fund was roughly $240 million in fiscal years 2010 and 2011; federal stimulus money helped to bring the total amount down. Under statute, the state is required to contribute $303.9 million in fiscal year 2012. According to the Joint Fiscal Office, the Challenges amount, $14.4 million, would be deducted from the General Fund transfer to the Education Fund. In addition, the state must find $18.4 million to replace a General Fund transfer reduction made in fiscal years 2010 and 2011.

The governor-elect isn’t prepared to say how the state would make up the difference in fiscal year 2012 until he presents his budget address on Jan. 25.

Shumlin was flanked by Jeb Spaulding, the secretary designee for the Agency of Administration, Armando Vilaseca, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Education, and representatives from the Vermont-NEA, the Vermont School Boards Association, the Vermont Principals Association and the Vermont Superintendents Association.

Speaker of the House Shap Smith thanked school board members for making “tough choices.” “Those challenges,” he said, “haven’t gone away.”

Smith said while education system is the “foundation of not only our economy but also our society,” he acknowledged that the state will have to address school spending.

“We know we have difficult times ahead,” Smith said. “We are all going to roll up our sleeves to meet those challenges together with an understanding we have a commitment to keep to our communities and to our students, but we also have a commitment to keep with our taxpayers.”

The advocates all remarked on the difference between Douglas’ stance on education (the governor often railed against rising school spending) and Shumlin’s interest in working with local school boards.

Jeff Francis, the executive director of the Vermont Superintendents Association, said Shumlin’s approach is “refreshing.”

“We have committed local officials, who in my view, act in the best interests of their communities,” Francis said. “At the policy level we have policymakers who are striving to contain costs and contend with all the challenging issues that we face. I think working together we will do better with those issues than we would working apart.”

John Nelson said the timing was important, as after the holidays many school boards need to move ahead with the budgeting process. He also praised Shumlin’s willingness to cede control over spending to local boards.

“Decisions about spending in local school districts will be made where they should be made and that’s locally and that’s the most important aspect to me of this proposal,” Nelson said.

When asked how school boards can be expected to keep expenditures in check under the statewide property tax system, Shumlin defended Act 68, the education finance law. He described it as the fairest system in the 50 states. Shumlin also said it has a simple mechanism for controlling costs: “The more you spend, the more you pay, the less you spend, the less you pay.”

“Does that mean people like it?” Shumlin asked rhetorically. “No. Why is that? Because as a nation we fund our most important obligation as a democratic society, which is the education of our children, through the most regressive tax we can imagine, which is the property tax. I have often said it is beyond me why some president or some candidate doesn’t pass a federal education tax that sends a block grant back to every child to every state for their children so that we minimize the amount of money raised through the property tax.”

Shumlin said he would support the voluntary merger incentive system. He did not say whether he would recommend a change to the small schools grant program, which provides financial support for schools with fewer than 100 students. Rep. Johanna Donovan, D-Burlington, chair of the House Education Committee, said in an interview that she plans to take testimony on the program.








Editor’s note:

Revisions to clarify the following grafs with new information were made at 11:30 a.m. Dec. 23, 2010.

Shumlin will be sending the money directly to schools, and it will represent a 1.67 percent increase over last year’s school budgets. At the same time, the state will reduce the General Fund transfer to the Education Fund by $14.4 million.

Vermont has reduced its contribution to the Education Fund two years in a row, thanks to federal stimulus monies. In fiscal years 2010 and 2011, the federal government gave the state $38.6 million in funding for schools and $18.4 million directly to schools. In addition, 2011, schools reduced their budgets by 2 percent, or about $23 million, which kept the statewide property tax flat.

The state’s General Fund contribution to the Education Fund was roughly $240 million in fiscal years 2010 and 2011. Under statute, the state is required to contribute $303.9 million in fiscal year 2012. According to the Joint Fiscal Office, the Challenges amount, $23 million, would reduce the transfer to $280 million in fiscal year 2012. In addition, the state must find $18.4 million to replace a General Fund transfer reduction that was made in fiscal years 2010 and 2011.

The governor-elect isn’t prepared to say how the state would make up the difference in fiscal year 2012 until he presents his budget address on Jan. 25.

Anne Galloway

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6 Comments on "Video + updated story: Shumlin won’t impose Challenges cuts on schools in 2012"

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5 years 6 months ago
How can one tell Shumlin & Co don’t have any real idea on how to handle the issue of education spending? Just listen to them … but please don’t misinterpret that as a slap at our governor elect, Jeb Spaulding and others – they’re just a few of the folks in what is a very, very, very long line. (And please stop fawning over school boards. People have a responsibility to serve their local communities, and school board members have simply taken that route. The real work in our local schools is done by the families, staff and administration.) Thank… Read more »
Arthur Hamlin
5 years 6 months ago
So the Vermont NEA wins again. I find it incredulous that they seem to be the only ones in this State who think they are exempt from sharing any of the burden of getting through these tough economic times. They even have an entire page on their website devoted to defeating the challenges cuts. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric that this is about looking out for the students or the community. It’s about protecting teachers from suffering even one iota of pain. I hope Mr. Shumlin remembers how he caved in to the teachers just like President Obama caved… Read more »
5 years 6 months ago

That is absolutely untrue.

Arthur Hamlin
5 years 6 months ago

Here is the link, they changed the title. The other day it was called something like Defeat the Challenges Cuts.

http://www.vtnea.org/naturalresource.aspx

5 years 6 months ago

The concept that you had one fact correct in your statement does not make your statement true.

Karl Riemer
5 years 5 months ago

Self-evidently teachers are at fault. If teachers had done their jobs, you’d know that ‘incredulous’ isn’t a fancy way to say ‘incredible’. Couching unreasonable responses in illiterate terms undermines opposition to public education and the teachers win again! It’s a sinister conspiracy by people who paid attention in school, of which (by not) you’ve become an unwitting tool.

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