Education

Under Act 46’s spending caps, school boards find building budgets frustrating

Vermont-NEA executive director Joel Cook looks on as a new plan to fund health care for retired teachers is discussed. File photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger
Vermont-NEA executive director Joel Cook. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

A provision in the state’s new education law that was meant to hold down property taxes could cause some school districts severe financial hardship or force severe cuts.

According to union officials, the head of the Vermont ACLU and politicians, including some who supported the law’s passage, the provision outlining the “allowable growth percentage” needs to be changed. According to Joel Cook, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association, the spending caps were put in the bill in the last hours – without testimony – before it passed.

The new education law, Act 46, is “full of righteous and good rhetoric on improving the quality of education and making sure every student has an equal opportunity to it, but by design or effect this mechanism will force school districts to make the terrible decision to tax people more or to slash programs,” and that hurts kids, said Cook.

The “allowable growth percentage” is a mechanism in the new education law that determines how much a school district can spend in FY 2017 and it is causing school boards much consternation as they try to put together next year’s budgets. There are real concerns that it could cause some districts taxes to go up and it may erode education quality in those that keep the budgetary line.

Allowable growth for education spending is between 0 percent and 5.5 percent based on how much a school district spent the previous year. The more a school district spends per equalized student in the prior year, the lower the allowable growth rate for the following year. And if a district goes over that line, they trigger a double tax on the extra dollars spent.

They also will no longer be allowed to borrow money for operating costs, so if a boiler breaks down or the roof starts to leak the district can’t get help from the state. The provision is in place for two fiscal years and is meant to hold the growth of statewide education spending to 2 percent. (Agency of Education fact sheet)

“Simple arithmetic will tell anyone who pays attention that the net effect in 2017 is a property tax increase,” said Cook, who doesn’t believe that was the Legislature’s intent.

Before Act 46 Vermont had a uniform school spending threshold that was relatively high. Towns that chose to spend more were penalized. Only a dozen of the top spending districts were penalized, according to Cook, but the new law applies a fine to every school district irrespective of spending levels or program needs.

“For several years, school boards have presented very lean budgets to their communities and have made very, very difficult decisions in order to do that. In many places there is not much room to move without getting into cuts that are going to damage quality,” said Nicole Mace, executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association.

The previous spending thresholds were legal, but Allen Gilbert of the Vermont ACLU says that the allowable growth rate is not because it “prevents schools from having an equitable draw on school funds. The excess spending provision did not do that unless schools hit what the state considered a high threshold that was unjustified.”

Lawmakers from the House Committee on Education will meet Wednesday in Montpelier to hear testimony on various glitches school districts have run into as they attempt to implement Act 46. The allowable growth rates will be on the agenda, according to Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol, chair of the House Committee on Education.

David Sharpe
Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol, is chair of the House Education Committee. Photo by Amy Ash Nixon/VTDigger

As school boards get into the nitty gritty of budgeting, addressing their largest costs – salaries and benefits – within the confines of their allowable rates is causing alarm, particularly because they face a non-negotiable 7.9 percent increase in health care costs.

That eats up about 60 percent of the statewide 2 percent allowable growth rate, according to Mace. She said that this rate “is included in collective bargaining agreements and boards have no ability to change it mid-year.”

Each year the board of the Vermont Education Health Initiative proposes an annual premium rate increase to the Department of Financial Regulation for approval. School districts that are currently in contract negotiations can try to bargain for employees to pick up a bigger share of the premium, but the federal ACA won’t allow the premium share to change by more than 5 percentage points. Premium shares are notoriously difficult to negotiate, according to Mace.

“Collective bargaining is in place in a significant number of districts and they have little room to respond if they agreed to salary and health insurance that exceed their allowable growth threshold. School districts cannot respond immediately to cost containment measures,” Mace said.

The Norwich School District’s allowable growth rate for this year is 1.22 percent. They have a previously signed contract that increases teacher and staff pay by 3 plus percent and they are bound to the 7.9 percent increase in health care. The two together will make it difficult to stay under the allowable growth rate.

Norwich school
The Marion Cross School in Norwich. Wikipedia Commons photo by Stephen Flanders

“The problem is that there are any number of fixed cost items in your budget that you don’t have much control over, such as negotiated settlements with your teachers, support staff, fuel costs, bus service,” explained Neil O’Dell, chair of the school board. “We look at what’s fixed, the ones we can’t control and see what kind of an impact that will have and work backwards from there.” Ultimately, board members get creative with the budgeting scythe, cutting capital repairs and putting off other non-essential costs, hoping no emergencies crop up as a result.

“We may be bad off but there are other districts that are far worse off,” O’Dell said. In school districts where the cuts run deeper, programming and staff will take a hit.

U-32 in East Montpelier is looking to cut $300,000 from expected expenses for fiscal year 2017. “The bottom line for U-32 is that our allowable increase will be an estimated $169,492 or about a 1.5 percent increase,” school board member Adrienne Magida said. They are asking the community to provide input as they approach some difficult decisions.

Towns that operate K-6 or K-8 schools and tuition their students in upper grades are worried about increases at the middle and high school levels because, they say, it may force them to cut into their elementary school operating budgets if they want to stay within their allowable growth rate.

“They are bound by law to pay the tuition that is charged to them either by a public school or one of the independent schools,” explained Mace. “The only place boards have to go to cut is the elementary school district budget. There are school board members that are extremely concerned about what that means for their elementary school.”

In Lyndon, school boards recently met with the heads of the Lyndon Institute and St. Johnsbury Academy to implore them to keep any tuition increases as low as possible. This year, tuition to St. Johnsbury Academy is $15,995, and $16,740 for Lyndon Institute. Each $800 increase in tuition per high school student will result in a $510 decrease in what can be spent at the K-8 level, Nancy Blankenship, chair of the Lyndon Town School Board told the Caledonia Record. Lyndon is also facing fixed costs associated with previously negotiated contracts for pay and health insurance culminating in an 11 percent increase.

In Franklin West Supervisory Union, Superintendent Ned Kirsch is worried about implementing Act 166 – the universal Pre-K law that provides 10 hours of early education for all 4- and 5-year-olds – while complying with the allowable growth rate. Kirsch says FWSU has a relatively high growth rate due to years of maintaining low per-pupil spending, but they will be hard-pressed not to tap into the elementary school budgets if they make the adjustments needed to meet the demands of Act 166.

There are three schools in the member districts and they all have established Pre-K programs. But they are going to need to build out their programs to meet the 10-hour requirement. To add teachers and extend the school day as well as move and upgrade classrooms just at Bellows Free Academy, Kirsch expects a bill of $125,000. (That is without adding in a much needed bus program to ensure equity.)

“Clearly, ‘allowable growth’ does not allow for the necessary growth of our early education programs,” Kirsch said. “Even with the high caps, we anticipate cutting from the regular K-12 budget in order to comply with this mandate. We will literally have to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul.’”

Allen Gilbert, executive director of Vermont ACLU.
Allen Gilbert, executive director of Vermont ACLU.

People are beginning to see the impact that these caps will have on property taxes and the ability to deliver a quality education to all of their students, according to the ACLU’s Gilbert. “It is no longer a theoretical debate as it was in May. Now it’s a real discussion about how schools are going to meet this provision if they can, staying under the cap, and they are finding out it is going to be very difficult for some of them,” he said.

Gilbert has written that the “allowable growth rate” mechanism in Act 46 directly violates the Brigham decision. “Such financial punishments – upsetting equal access to school funds – are a direct violation of the core equity principle in the Vermont Supreme Court’s 1997 Brigham decision,” he wrote to Gov. Peter Shumlin after the law passed. Gilbert has also presented his arguments to the secretary of the Agency of Education, the State Board of Education and Speaker of the House Shap Smith.

This type of blunt instrument isn’t necessary, Gilbert said, and it could drive some schools into a death spiral if they end up with a broken broiler or the wood chip heating fails and they all of the sudden have to spend a lot of money because they have no choice but to stay open “they will have a real problem if they have to pay double once they reach their cap.”

Gilbert and the ACLU have threatened a lawsuit after Town Meeting Day, but he is hopeful that it won’t be necessary. “We are hoping the Legislature will fix this. We would much prefer not having to go to court. The question is very clear what the legislation should do and we hope they will repeal the caps.”

At several forums, many candidates for governor have spoken of the need to make changes to Act 46, including the spending caps. Shumlin has also said “tweaks” should be made.

But school districts are building their budgets now and the Legislature doesn’t resume until January. Still, there is hope that next week’s meeting will lead to options that could be voted on at the start of the legislative session.

“The sooner they take legislative action or send a signal that there is agreement to move in a particular direction the better. Budgets have to go to the printer in January. That’s why I’m pleased the committee is getting together next week – action needs to be taken as the first order of business when they reconvene in January to be useful this year,” Mace said.

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  • Tom Pelham

    The numerous flaws in Act 46 were not hard to predict.

    http://vtdigger.org/2015/09/15/tom-pelham-act-46-is-not-a-solution/

    http://vtdigger.org/2015/09/07/campaign-for-vermont-calls-for-repeal-of-act-46/

    Yet, solving the problems Act 46 now present school boards and taxpayers will take more than a few “tweaks”, as some at the statehouse suggest.

    The Gordian Knot of unwinding the spending caps while respecting the clear call of property tax payers that taxes are overburdening will be hard to solve between now and early January. Add to this the concerns of tuition school districts which can’t access the tax subsidies and economies of scale of consolidation in the face of a state legal opinion that says mergers between tuition districts and non-tuition districts are unconstitutional. Such opinion leaves school districts like Elmore subject to the harsh financial penalties embedded in Act 46. Further, addressing the concerns of school districts which like the status quo, operate an efficient and well run school district and don’t want to merge but will be forced to pay higher taxes to fund the subsidies for school districts that do merge, is an unfortunate contradiction.

    Unraveling and repackaging the many constituencies affected by Act 46 by the time school budgets go to voters is a daunting task. Let’s hope our statehouse leaders have the insight and skill to complete this task. Let’s hope as well that should they not succeed by early January, they have the common sense to repeal Act 46 and start again with a clean slate.

  • I support the concept behind the temporary spending thresholds, but the implementation of this program in Act 46 violates the most basic precept of the “Brigham” case: that every district should have equal access to equal educational funds.

    I can state from personal experience and the experiences I’ve heard from all around the state there are currently many school budget conversations discussing what is needed, what is desired, what is affordable, and what the priorities are. This is a good thing.

    I can think of two mechanisms that would help address the issues around the rate of growth in our state’s education spending:

    1) There was proposal last spring that started at the state average for per pupil education spending and added taxes in a graduated manner for spending above the average while lowering taxes in a graduated manner for spending below. This idea would be workable and constitutional , but I would suggest setting the spending cut off somewhere below the state average.

    2) Simple reduce the excess spending threshold to the state average: double tax every dollar spent above the state average. Simple and constitutional.

    I hope the baby (letting money help drive the conversation) is not thrown out with the bathwater (an unconstitutional threshold)>

  • Santina Huskey

    The Caps were Imposed to force reduction of the budgets thru difficult choices.

    No-one wants to increase class sizes thus cutting staff positions. Yet this is the only way to decrease the cost of Vermont education and residents property tax bills.

    Instead everyone is trying to preserve their area that will be impacted. Schools want the caps removed, Choice districts want to remain choice and still consolidate with non choice districts. Everyone wants things the way they were before Act 46 passed.

    Residents don’t want large district school consolidations, loss of local control and long bus rides for their children.

    What’s sad in all this is those running the schools with power will lobby and the caps will be removed.

    Choice districts might get the go ahead to merge with non choice districts.

    Yet overall the average taxpayer will have no say in the chaos caused by this law.

    Their children from lower income families will suffer and not get the one on one attention smaller schools offer. The children with disabilities will not get the attention and quality of education they need. Children will not get to join after school activities because of longer bus rides and lack of time to fit it all in. These are all FACTS proven in study after study on school consolidation.

    That’s okay though. Let those with Power , Connections and Money get the revisions they want.

    Those without Power, Connections and Money have become resigned to the new operating model of Vermont and know that their concerns will as usual be ignored.

  • George Cross

    The real issue is applying a one-size fits all solution to a problem that is caused by some, but not all. Back in 2011 I urged that an in-depth district-by-district study was needed to attack the spending problem:

    http://vtdigger.org/2011/01/05/cross-should-have-listened-to-willie-sutton/.

    Such a task is difficult and time consuming. Until it is done there will always be numerous unintended consequences which will undo every attempt to legislate our way out of the ever increasing school costs. New laws do little, except waste time that could be used to do the in-depth analysis that is needed.

  • Doug Hoffer

    Teacher salaries are the largest element of the education budget in all 50 states; not just Vermont.

    In any case, do you think a pay cut will help school districts attract and keep good teachers? If not, how do you think a reduction in pay might play out over time?

    • Max D. Meridi

      ,,,”In any case, do you think a pay cut will help school districts attract and keep good teachers? If not, how do you think a reduction in pay might play out over time?”

      A cessation of pay (layoffs) would have less “long-term repercussions” than what you’re insinuating.

      And while it would be nice if teachers were layed-off on a performance basis, that isn’t how the union education establishment plays, is it?

      And is that the fault of students and taxpayers?

      In a word, no.

      • Doug Hoffer

        That’s not even close to a response to my question.

    • Irene Stewart

      Teacher salaries are a very large portion of the budgets in all 50 states. But in Vermont where we have had such a reduction in the number of students, the number of teachers has not seen any reduction. Rather than a reduction in pay, teachers need to be cut from the budgets, especially those that are teaching classes with 3 or 4 or 5 students. Teachers do not have contracts for life, when hired. But by the arguments some propose, you would think they sign on for a lifetime, well into a normal retirement age, for teaching positions. This is the time to reduce the number of teachers with a cap that was passed by our citizen legislature. Very surprised the NEA let this one go by them!

      • Doug Hoffer

        Do you have any data to support your claims? Trends in students in other states? Number of teachers with classes of “3 or 4 or 5 students?”

        • Irene Stewart

          Yes, VT newspapers, NY Times, Washington Post, and the very well researched columns in VT Digger. Teachers at local schools. Parents concerned about school taxes.
          Yes, Doug, plenty of data that there are classes in VT schools with 3, 4, or 5 students. One class, had 2 students last year here. Families leave Vermont, with children. Kids drop out. Some go to out of state private schools. Yes, Doug, the student population has dropped dramatically in Vermont. Check out Montpelier High School and classes with very few students. Did you read the columns by Amy Nixon last spring? An eyeopener for every Vermont taxpayer!

        • Jay Eshelman

          Mr. Hoffer: I urge you and everyone to read this long-standing study on ‘tuitioning’.

          http://www.schoolreport.com/tuitioning.htm

          There are great teachers choosing to work in private schools for lower wages because they appreciate the work environment for many reasons.

          One-size-fits all doesn’t work for teachers or students. If we’d turn the free markets lose on education, choosing between both public and independent schools, the markets will show us the myriad innovations that make for successful, cost effective schools and weed out those that aren’t.

          Take politics out of education. Support School Choice.

    • Jim Christiansen

      Doug,

      Every open elementary teaching position in Chittenden will receive 75-100 qualified applications. Attracting qualified teachers at current salaries in a market of surplus is not a problem.

      Given that we are in an era of surplus, a price reduction is the logical option.

    • Jamie Carter

      Had an in law that graduated with her teaching degree, was one of the best students in her class. Applied for every teaching postion that came up within a 60 mile radius and after 3-4 years of never getting a full time position she gave up and moved away.

      I think a pay cut in fact may actually do just was you say, attract and keep good teachers. The old teachers, the ones that can’t relate anymore, are just there to punch the clock…. they are going to retire. And that will open the door for attracting some new teachers that still have some enthusiasm, that really want to be there.

      Now if we could couple that with raises based on performance so we could actually reward those teachers that do a good job as opposed to automatic wage increases we would really be on to something.

    • Moshe Braner

      When you have fewer students, as we have, hire fewer teachers. If the VTNEA wants more of its members to keep their jobs, they can agree to smaller raises.

    • Neil Johnson

      How about we put the real numbers to the light of day.

      Our teachers have the highest paying jobs in the state.

      Show on one page all the benefits and payments a teacher earns for a year.

      Pay
      All fica and other taxes.
      School
      Auto increases
      Health Care Expense
      Retirement Benefit

      If you put these together…..what is the number

      Then compare to average employee in Vermont…Let’s see the facts.

  • Max D. Meridi

    …”A provision in the state’s new education law that was meant to hold down property taxes could cause some school districts severe financial hardship or force severe cuts.”…

    Please define “severe”. 1%? 2%? 4%?

    …”The new education law, Act 46, is “full of righteous and good rhetoric on improving the quality of education and making sure every student has an equal opportunity to it, but by design or effect this mechanism will force school districts to make the terrible decision to tax people more or to slash programs,” and that hurts kids, said Cook.”…

    Please define”slash”.

    …”“Simple arithmetic will tell anyone who pays attention that the net effect in 2017 is a property tax increase,” said Cook, who doesn’t believe that was the Legislature’s intent.”…

    A property tax increase, or a lack of pork for the education establishment.

    …”Lawmakers from the House Committee on Education will meet Wednesday in Montpelier to hear testimony on various glitches school districts have run into as they attempt to implement Act 46. The allowable growth rates will be on the agenda, according to Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol, chair of the House Committee on Education.”…

    So whatever paltry “savings” Act 46 may have afforded, are now “on the agenda” to be be disallowed. Great.

    …”The “allowable growth percentage” is a mechanism in the new education law that determines how much a school district can spend in FY 2017 and it is causing school boards much consternation as they try to put together next year’s budgets. There are real concerns that it could cause some districts taxes to go up and it may erode education quality in those that keep the budgetary line.”…

    So unless Vermont allows budgets to increase beyond the new Act 46 thresholds, educatiojn quality will be eroded. Desparately extort, much?

  • Tom Sullivan

    “This is the time to reduce the number of teachers with a cap that was passed by our citizen legislature”

    Couldn’t agree more.

    It’s time for our citizen legislature to start the discussion of mandating an increase in the student to teacher ratio.

    • Wendy Wilton

      Tom, you are right on. The smartest and simplest solution for the state would have been to establish benchmarks for student:teacher and student:staff ratios. Vermont’s student:teacher ratio is the lowest in the nation at 10:1 last I knew and it has dropped significantly in the last decade. The national average is closer to 15:1.

      If these ratios were instuted over time this would bring down education costs dramatically. Schools that can’t meet the ratios should be offered public school choice or to consolidate with a neighboring district…that way it would be a local decision.

      The legislature, in its aim to please Joel Cook and the VTNEA cooks up crazy, complicated schemes like Act 60 and Act 46, when simpler ideas would work better.

      • Lee Stirling

        I believe the student:Teacher ratio in VT is 10:1, but when you factor in para-educators and other forms of instructors, it drops to about 5:1

  • Santina Huskey

    I believe the Vermont average is 10 to 1 student to teacher ratio. Lower then the majority of the states.

    At issue is the loss of students with the same staff levels thus our increasing educational costs.

    There are teachers retiring who’s positions could be eliminated rather then replaced. Same could be said for other positions within the schools. There could be state incentives encouraging the early retirement among school personnel thus further reducing staff. All a fairly painless process that would bend the educational cost in Vermont down.

    The problem is there’s always a stated “need” for the positions to be replaced for best educational outcomes. State testing in Vermont though tells a different story with greater then norm staffing and low test scores.

    Act 46 might work with a mandated minimum student to Teacher/Para educator ratio plus a reasonable spending cap. Instead of mass school consolidations two mandates would bend educational costs down and allow schools to work creatively together within very simple parameters.

  • Margaret MacLean

    While school boards struggle to deal with this unconstitutional one size fits all spending limit on schools watch out for the SU budgets to rise. School spending is limited but centralized district management is not touched. Expect a shift and a growth in education spending at the SU district level which is not subjected to these constraints. This is how Act 46 is designed. Boost middle level bureaucracy at the expense of spending and flexibility at the school level. In Vermont if we are to wisely adjust our education spending and delivery to design a system for the future within the means hard working Vermonters can afford this issue is fundamental. While the goals of Act 46 are laudable the means is destructive – destructive of flexible responsive community based schooling which has been traded for a centralized standardized bigger is better system. Watch SU spending rise while school spending is squeezed. Watch the ‘savings’ evaporate. At this is only year one.

  • Sen. David Zuckerman

    Act 46 does not take away choice. It is a complex law in part because it allows for the many varied situations that exist in Vermont. People want it all. Lower taxes, school choice, keep every school exactly as it is and make no changes for me and my children, by lower my taxes.

    The reality is that there are many concerns about property taxes, and at the same time, school budgets pass because people do want a quality education for our children (whether people have children or not, the majority do vote to support a their schools).

    Act 46 does not remove choice. That is a decision for the local voters to decide.

    What Act 46 does is it tells every school board to look beyond a one year budget. It asked every school board to look at whether it is possible to merge administrative and political boundaries in order to preserve or expand learning opportunities for kids. If school districts can show that they are offering quality education at a reasonable price and that there is no way for them to merge admin functions then they are allowed to make their case to keep the status quo. But if they can not show that their costs are reasonable or that they have good outcomes, then yes, they will have the change their administrative scenario.

    Our political system has sadly evolved into a short term fix scenario. Yet, an issue like school spending can not be solved with a short term solution. Act 46 is a long term adjustment. It allows for and in fact demands these discussions that for too long people have pushed off into the future.

    The future is now. People in each and every town have to look at how their system is working (or not). We used to all work in our town, live in our town and stay in our town most of the time. Times have changed. Transportation is faster, people go farther abroad to work, and our schools are still based on the antiquated notion of artificial boundaries.

    I am glad that this law is generating such broad discussion. I hope that it will lead to both better schools, better costs, and more community involvement. Is the law written perfectly. No. But having good, fact based discussions on how to improve it is the way to go forward. The law does not take away school choice.

    Lets stop that red herring once and for all. School choice is a decision by the local voters. The local school boards do not get to make that decision for the local citizens. That was true before Act 46 and it is true after Act 46.

    • Jamie Carter

      David, Act 46 is a garbage piece of legislation that will accomplish nothing. You and your cohorts should be embarassed that this is the best piece of legislation you could put forth. It won’t materialize into any significant savings and you know it. It’s one thing to tow the party line, it’s another to bury your head in the sand.
      The highest estimate I heard put forth was $50M…. 50M in a 1600M budget. If you want to stop the red herrings lets start with the one that this is somehow going to result in savings.

      As for the complexity, it is complex only because the legislature does not have the capacity to make anything simple. It doesn’t have to be complex, it just requires some actual thought, which our statehouse is incapable of. Time and time again laws get overly complicated, there is little doubt it’s intentional. The more complex something is the easier it is to hide the money. I think Gruber speaks for all laws, not just ObamaCare

      Finally, Act 46 doesn’t technically remove choice, that is correct… but it’s akin to saying gas doesn’t burn, it’s the vapors that do.

      Act 46 says you can retain choice, we are just going to make you pay for it by subsidizing those that do. And in 3 years we are going to merge you one way or the other because the Legislature is all knowing and infintely wise. Now let’s all go have a beer!

    • Grant Reynolds

      The voters don’t have the simple question “Do you want school choice?” presented to them. They vote on a merger proposal created by a study committee. Their school board has representation on the committee, but more or less in proportion to population. A small choice town can influence the members of the Study Committee, but not veto a majority plan that doesn’t include choice. So the voters in the various towns in the district can vote against a no-choice merger, but they can’t create a choice one. Creating a choice district from towns formerly in disparate SU’s is a challenging organizational problem for the very part-time members of school boards. “It’s up to the voters” is not universally true. They can only vote on what’s presented to them, and create chaos by voting it down. Some choice!

  • Jasen Boyd

    Here’s the problem with % caps. School boards that have a low per pupil spending are allowed less growth than school boards with larger per pupil spending, in essence being fiscally conservative is punished by this type of system. For example if a school district has a $12,000 per pupil spending they can grow their per pupil spending by $300 per pupil, if another district has a $16,000 dollar per pupil spending and a 2.5% allowable growth they can grow by $400 per pupil. The VT Legislature should have made act 46 so that it says you can spend $XXX amount per student and no more. This would get all schools on equal footing.

    The state in order to slow school budget growth also needs to insist on a state wide teacher contract, the current way of negotiating is broken and entirely in favor of the unions. The majority of all school budgets is pay for teachers, if 75% of your budget is contracted to go up 4% a year, you can’t meet a budget cap without cutting student programs. If a district tries to keep pay increase low (Low in this case would be around 3% a year) the union know they only need to go to mediation and that a comparison of other schools in the area, which the unions have strong armed into 4% or higher raises each year, will show that the School board trying to keep the raise percentages down are not being fair to their teachers. The mediator will side with the union and the school district would be forced to accept the higher pay raise or risk strike. A state wide contract would eliminate the unions ability to play one district against another, it would also be beneficial to students in rural areas as a teacher with 10 years of experience would make the same money in Chittenden county or Essex county and slow down the exodus of good teachers from rural communities to the larger schools in Chittenden County.

    On top of all of this, the legislature placed unfounded mandates like universal pre K into this mix and said that has to be address without breaking the budget cap. In essence reducing existing programs for current students to accommodate Pre K students.

    It’s time for the legislature to stop unfunded mandates, and time for them to make the tough decisions that can really start to fix the education cost.

  • Santina Huskey

    Yes Sen Zuckerman we would like it all and it’s achievable without mass chaos which will produce neither savings nor better educational outcomes for our students.

    Every Study on Consolidation comes to the same conclusion. Little Savings, bad educational outcomes for the students. Yes I have the studies and they are posted thru many VT digger commentaries.

    FYI – Transportation is not faster in the NEK of Vermont. There is no public transportation. No cabs available. No daily buses. Nothing. Due to high levels of poverty many families do not have cars. Consolidating schools will make families unable to attend school functions, Fund raisers, Assemblies, and sports events if they lack transportation. With Small town schools the parents walk over.

    Many residents in the NEK don’t go further to work. Many people are unemployed and lack transportation to get to a job outside of their towns. The local Schools offer employment to many of them.

    Desiring Small Towns with a local school that fosters a strong sense of Community is not an antiquated notion. It’s one of the cherished traditions that Vermont residents do not want to lose. Families move from large cities with consolidated impersonal schools to Vermont for the schools. Is it antiquated to not want to be a number in a crowd?

    Act 46 is complicated but that’s simply politics at it’s worse. It ignores what Vermont residents Cherish and want and instead derides them with lectures and talk of a Citizenry being antiquated and out of date.

    Perhaps it’s those who drafted this legislation who are out of touch with what Vermont was , is and still wants to be.

  • Peter Chick

    School choice will prove that Vermont public schools are severely lacking. I believe there is not much the teachers union fears more than the light of day.