When thinking about the HUUSD budget, stay calm, stay informed and resist blame. That message is as much for me as anyone else out there. I certainly have had moments of wanting to say, “See? I told you so!” But recent posts where someone else blamed teacher resignations on the budget that failed (and not everything that came in the months before, or this crazy time that we are in, or whatever other situations teachers may have) made me realize that people will believe what they already believe. The best any of us can do is to recognize confirmation bias in ourselves and others and to always look for facts to inform our judgments.
As for staying informed, there is a board meeting on May 13 and one of the agenda items is staff attrition. If you are concerned about that, you should attend or watch the video after.
On to the HUUSD school budget. I believe good news abounds. Although it’s true that we have not seen an actual legislative bill about education funding and may not for a little while, there are indications that we might see a bill that allows districts who do not yet have a budget (either because theirs failed or because they hadn’t scheduled yet) to adopt a budget that equals FY20 (this year’s) education spending and to do so without a vote. (Note this is not the same number as total expenditures, which is a good thing because if that were used as the benchmark, it would require an additional $1M-plus reduction from the March proposed budget.)
DID NOT CLOSE THE DOOR
I am reluctant about the “without a vote” part for many, many reasons, both general and specific to our community and board at this point. I am thankful that our board did not close the door on having a public vote at their May 6 meeting, and I would support them keeping that door open as long as possible. Some legislators have suggested votes in June or August and that votes that failed then would still have the path offered by the bill. To me, public oversight is critical in any democracy, and I have confidence that we Vermonters will figure out how to safely honor citizen voice even during – especially during – times like these. So I certainly support a public vote.
However, I will support the board if they adopt this budget, if it is allowed, without a vote. The reason is that the budget expenditure number is very close to what was presented in March (full disclosure, it is about $87,000 more), and the administration and board have agreed that they can meet this number without all of the controversial mergers and future bonds that were included in the March budget. This is by no means an easy budget: Some things are going to be cut and retired positions not rehired. But to me, this is the best case scenario – at this time – for taxpayers, students and staff. It keeps taxes essentially the same as what was proposed in March, and it allows the board to continue other important work like overseeing COVID-related changes to operations, hopefully planning a scaled-back implementation of even this budget (as I believe others have suggested), evaluating our superintendent and deciding on contract renewal as is required this year and ongoing direction-setting activities related to instructions and buildings.
Also, if it turns out that the bill does not come through the way we hope (if, for example, it ends up specifying FY20 “expenditures”), the board is already working on a budget and plan that I believe is reasonable, keeps us on a level playing field with schools across the state and should and will pass with the public. It’s a good plan for a public vote, too.
I want to be clear that the legislative bill currently assumed above does not work for many districts in our state, but it turns out that for our district, it does (there are a few reasons for this that I think I’ve worked out, but won’t bore you here – reach out if you are curious).
But in my view, this option happens to work for us, and I will support it – vote or no.
McCracken lives in Waterbury, VT and is a former HUUSD Board member.