Letter: Don't be ashamed; it's confusing

Editor of the Reformer:

It is easy to see why people are confused about Vermont's system for funding education. The article in Tuesday's Reformer by Tiffany Pasche ("When an 8-cent property tax break isn't 8 cents"), quoting from Brad James, is a perfect example of how many twists and turns there are in the current system, especially when looking at the tax effects of Act 46.It is crucial for anyone reading about the incentives, and tax increases, to know that there is really no guarantee that merging will save substantial money. The primary promised savings are the incentives, which start at about 8 cents and diminish to nothing over the next four years. It is possible that merged districts will lower costs, but this has not been proven yet and may in fact turn out to not be true. So any district that decides to merge based on real long term tax advantages is speculating about future spending and savings — the incentives disappear in a few years but structural changes are not reversible.

Another paradox evident from the article is the projection that education tax rates will rise by about 8 cents next year, at the same time that some merged districts will get the temporary incentive of 8 cents. Where does the money come from to provide the incentives? From the very same pot of taxpayers' money that we use to pay for educating all of our kids. So taking some of that money to provide incentives to districts to merge means that the districts that choose not to merge, for whatever reason, are being penalized because they chose a different route to the one specified by Act 46. Robbing Peter to pay Paul. This is perhaps an unintended consequence of the law, and not one which I believe most Vermonters would feel is either fair or well-thought-out. Districts that choose not to merge, when the possible outcomes of merging are still unknown, should not see their share of state education funding reduced because "incentive" money was given to other districts. Merging districts should believe in the educational benefits of merging and should not be merging because there is a short term financial incentive.

Dan MacArthur,

Marlboro, Nov. 22


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