Vermont schools come up $15.8 million short on Challenges target

Crossett Brook School

Most Vermont school districts balked at the Challenges for Change target reductions for fiscal year 2012.

In the aggregate, Vermont schools will be $15.8 million short of the Challenges goal. The Department cited the target number as $19.9 million; the Legislature asked schools to voluntarily reduce their budgets by 2.3 percent or $23 million.

The Vermont Department of Education released preliminary findings on Friday with 53 of the state’s 63 school districts reporting. In all, 39 school districts did not meet the targeted reductions, according to department figures. The Challenges targets were tailored for each district based on weighted formulas created by the department.

Download a PDF of the preliminary results. Challenges for Change results Dec. 16, 2010

Under Act 146, the Department of Education is required to compile estimated budget amounts from supervisory unions and technical center districts. The reporting deadline was Dec. 15.

The results were released at 4:20 p.m. Friday afternoon. With 53 schools reporting, 39 did not meet the targeted reductions.

Schools in Vermont spend about $989 million a year. Districts across the state identified $4 million in reductions.

A handful of those districts with high target amounts have not budged – their budgets remain static. Here is a listing of supervisory union districts that were asked to eliminate $900,000 or more from their budgets, but did not find the requisite savings: Burlington, Franklin Central, Washington Central, Windham Central, Windham Southeast and Springfield.

Download the spreadsheet of estimated district spending and unmet target reductions. Challenges for Change results by supervisory union Dec. 17, 2010

In an interview Friday night, Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin said he didn’t believe school districts could achieve the $23 million in savings as quickly as originally hoped, that’s why he said he supported using the $19 million the federal government designed to prevent teacher layoffs as  “bridge” funding for Vermont schools. He said he’s optimistic about the future of education in Vermont, “but we have a problem to solve as we transition to better times.”

“First of all, hats off to the school board members who were able to make the tough choices,” Shumlin said. “We all have a lot of that ahead. As I walk through options for balancing the $112 million budget shortfall, it’s sobering, and we’re all going to have to pitch in. I’m grateful to those boards that worked to find savings.”

He warned that the federal bridge funding is temporary. “None of us should mistake the bridge with a lack of resolve to find savings,” Shumlin said. “Everyone is going to have to make a common sacrifice until we create jobs and (the economy rebounds).”

“I’m a realist,” Shumlin said. “I never really believed school boards could have gotten there as quickly as we hoped. Let’s redouble our efforts. We have this bridge money, thanks to our congressional delegation. Let’s use it as a bridge, not a security blanket.”

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Anne Galloway

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  • I know of one school district (Thetford) that met their “challenge” based entirely on an unexpected tuition refund from their high school of choice. Other schools were already looking at reductions due to student count decreases. (Remember – the “challenges to destroy public education by unreasonable and arbitrary demands” numbers were actually school by school. The SU numbers reflect the combined school district numbers for a given SU.)

    Special education costs for Williamstown are expected to increase by $200,000 in next year’s budget, we’ve already absorbed $100,000 in unbudgeted special ed costs this year (and yes I have every reason to expect more in the immediate future due soley to address change) on top of a budgeted increase of $240,000 – AND THESE COSTS ARE ENTIRELY DUE TO FEDERAL AND STATE MANDATES that local districts cannot opt out of.

    Every single cost in the above paragraph has to come out some other area of our school’s budget.

    We’ve already cut and are ready to pare even closer to the bone this year – at least we’ve cut and will further pare that part of the budget the federal and state governments will let us cut.

    Those “challenges” numbers are meaningless in themselves, and the state putting them out there without and context is nothing more than a continuing scam to convince the public their local school boards will not and cannot control costs – but the only costs we are not controlling are those the feds and state mandate upon us.

    In short our state government is so totally out of touch with reality on this issue – or maybe they really want to destroy the public education system?

  • An afterthought – while some schools increased their budget by virtue of grants with the effect of increased spending not reflected as an increase in spending (see for a great example); other schools that purchased state mandated technology related items such as computers had to put that on the books and thus subject to the “challenges” thingie – and yes – technology implementation is a state mandate.


  • Ron Pulcer


    Thanks for being persistant on this issue. Myself and others ask occasional questions on school budget at our town meeting night or pre-town meeting in February. Many times the answer is that the budget item in question is in part or wholly due to unfunded federal or state mandates

    I had suggested a couple of years ago for school board to identify items or percentages of items that are in budget due to unfunded mandates. The idea was to have this included in the published Town Report booklet. This could help citizens understand the budget better and could also help the school boards. This way if citizens are frustrated they can direct their frustration and questions where it really belongs. The local school boards get an earful from voters, but often their hands are tied.

    Regarding: “maybe they really want to destroy the public education system?”

    I don’t know about that. But it does sometimes appear that some politicians would rather have the local school board, teachers and local taxpayers blame each other, rather than the Legislature and Congress, who create the unfunded laws.

  • Dave Bellini

    Transparency in Special Education spending would go a long way in convincing me all the money spent on it is worth it. Its difficult, if not impossible, to get accurate information, line by line, as to what taxpayers are spending in Special Education. Does it work? What is the measurement of success? Is it measured the same way in every district? Is there a better way? Should the laws be changed to recognize that money is limited? The only certainty is that Special Education seems to encompass more students, more “behaviors”, more circumstances and the doorway appears to get wider and wider. Also, schools have gone from academic institutions to social services agencies. To quote Martha Allen, president of VTNEA: “Schools provide meals, clothing, medical care, counseling, parenting programs, preschool,………and more.” Shouldn’t all of these social programs be administered and paid for by general fund dollars? They sound like Human Services programs. Aren’t we supposed to have departments in State government that provide for these very things?