Letter: Shine a light on school funding
In the topsy-turvy world that is Montpelier these days, no topic seems to generate as much heat and as little light as school funding. The fun began last year about this time when Governor Phil Scott thought it might be politically expedient to actually overreach his "No New Taxes" campaign pledge with what at first blush looked like the almost irresistible topper of a two cent cut in the state-wide education property tax rate. Of course on the Q.T. and with the acquiescence of the Legislative leadership, he plugged that yawning gap with what we politely refer to as "One Time Money," and this year he wants to do it again.
Now in order to throw John Q. Public off the scent he needed a fall guy., and the perfect fall guy was, of course, those pesky schools which were causing all the budget trouble in the first place. But even if the Governor wanted excellent schools which would provide a highly trained workforce, that didn't mean he actually wanted to pay for it.
Enter now the Vermont School Boards Association which could see opportunity in all this, and when Phil Scott opined that it might be a good idea to have a State-Wide teacher health insurance plan, the VSBA and their conjoined siamese twin the Vermont Superintendent's Association, said "Happy to Help." Or it might just have been their ambitious leadership. What they got was burned, and in cozying up to Governor Scott not only did they throw every school board budget in Vermont under the bus, instead of being players, Phil Scott used them as chips.
Remarkably, it's still their current thinking, or as VSBA Director Nicole Mace put it Wednesday night, "Have people at the local level (meaning the school boards) focus on what they're experts in." Which is apparently nothing. So let this clod hopper from southern Vermont weigh in and just say, that if the operators in the State Capitol think they can do a better job with a state-wide plan then we've already done down here where we've reigned in our budgets and negotiated the Phil's 80/20 health insurance split, then let 'em.
But let's make those premium obligations a State Government responsibility at the same time, so we'll really know what and who's responsible for runaway school budgets. Maybe it will turn out that the Governor's political apparatus can defy the Laws of Gravity, or maybe it can't, and we'll wind up finding out that the rest of the country already knows, which is that state-wide teachers' contracts lead to state-wide teachers' strikes.
David M. Clark
Westminster, May 12
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