Commentary

Pattie McCoy: Protecting our school employees and Vermont’s taxpayers

This commentary is by state Rep. Pattie McCoy, R-Poultney, the House minority leader.

How often does an education reform bill pass on a voice vote in the Vermont Legislature? From experience, I can tell you it is about as rare as the same type of legislation passing unanimously. That is, very rare indeed. 

Yet, when the Vermont Legislature contemplated a statewide commission to determine the arrangements of public school employee health benefits, it passed the House on a voice vote and the Senate unanimously.

In short, the measure was quite popular, and for good reason. Its goal was to introduce uniformity into an otherwise complex process that caused headaches for local school boards and to save taxpayers money in the process. It was something Democrats, Republicans, Progressives and independents could, and did, all get behind.

It is surprising that here we are, not quite three years later, and a group of lawmakers is trying to reverse course and substantially change the process.

H.81 would make a substantial change by eliminating the requirement for uniform cost-sharing in health care premiums and out-of-pocket expenses between public school employees. 

This uniform process serves a purpose: It makes sure that all participating public school employees are treated the same way. Undoing this important measure means, for example, teachers may pay a certain share of their health care costs, while paraeducators and other support staff may pay an entirely different percentage. Obviously, this could perpetuate inequities in benefits within our public school system.

And if the new “sliding scale” of benefits slides too far one way, taxpayers will be left to pick up the extra tab. That defeats the entire purpose of the measure signed onto three years ago: to control costs while preserving quality benefits.

Meanwhile, the entire process surrounding this bill has been charted without an ounce of transparency. There has been no formal fiscal note to provide legislators with the cost of this legislative change. The legislative committees that deal with education, or with finance have not even reviewed this education-financing bill. Instead, it was passed through the General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee, while attempts to have the Education and Ways and Means committees review it were dismissed. 

Having the Education Committee review an education-related bill is a reasonable idea.

Unsurprisingly, important stakeholder groups — including those representing the Vermont School Boards Association — are opposed to this measure. They have said it will lead to more complex negotiations, raise costs for everyone, and increase the administrative burden. They are absolutely correct.

It is not too late to fix this bill. First, the Senate, which now has possession of the legislation, should make sure both the Education and Finance committees review it, and request a formal fiscal note. Second, the bill should be revised to institute parity and equity by keeping uniform cost-sharing for public school employees. Third, the negotiation and arbitration process should add consideration of clear costs as an item to consider. 

These three simple measures — transparency, parity and cost consideration — will enhance the bill and the current process for determining health benefits for public school employees. Let us not take a step backward. Instead, let us all move forward together and embrace changes we can all get behind that improve the law, not undermine it.


We are halfway through our Spring Drive. Will you support local journalism and help us send brand new books to 3,000 Vermont children by April 30? We will send one book for every donation we receive through our partnership with the Children's Literacy Foundation.

Commentary

About Commentaries

VTDigger.org publishes 12 to 18 commentaries a week from a broad range of community sources. All commentaries must include the author’s first and last name, town of residence and a brief biography, including affiliations with political parties, lobbying or special interest groups. Authors are limited to one commentary published per month from February through May; the rest of the year, the limit is two per month, space permitting. The minimum length is 400 words, and the maximum is 850 words. We require commenters to cite sources for quotations and on a case-by-case basis we ask writers to back up assertions. We do not have the resources to fact check commentaries and reserve the right to reject opinions for matters of taste and inaccuracy. We do not publish commentaries that are endorsements of political candidates. Commentaries are voices from the community and do not represent VTDigger in any way. Please send your commentary to Tom Kearney, [email protected]

Email: [email protected]

Send us your thoughts

VTDigger is now accepting letters to the editor. For information about our guidelines, and access to the letter form, please click here.

 

Recent Stories

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Pattie McCoy: Protecting our school employees and Vermont’s tax..."