Being proactive

Valley residents will likely see some major changes to the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) in the next few years. The changes will probably make for a stronger school district and more opportunities for students, but will it matter to the taxpayer?

As the HUUSD Board began discussing its redesign at the last meeting, which includes a proposal to move all seventh- and eighth-graders to Harwood, all fifth- and sixth-graders to Crossett Brook and repurposing and closing two elementary schools, Melissa Phillips, from Waterbury, asked if it would actually make a substantial change to the tax rate if the district is still paying for the rest of Vermont’s school districts through the state’s education tax model.

It’s a valid question. Superintendent Brigid Nease told Phillips that the redesign is not solely for saving money. Nease explained that it would give the school district more flexibility and it could provide more opportunities to students through clubs and extracurricular activities. Some board members explained the need to improve the district’s vocational programs.

Most importantly, Nease said, it is a proactive decision. Rather than reacting to spending penalty limits and mandates from the state, the HUUSD Board is taking action to give itself more room to grow and potentially save a lot of money. Just this year the governor asked for increases in spending per equalized pupil to remain under 2.5 percent. The HUUSD spending per equalized pupil will rise just 2.1 percent in fiscal year 2019.

Now the HUUSD Board is taking voluntary action to further reduce spending. However, there is no telling how much it will save the taxpayers. As Nease pointed out in her white paper, not every school district pays attention to spending limits, as the HUUSD Board does. There is no incentive or truly damaging penalties coming from the state and so mindful spenders, like those serving on the HUUSD Board, end up bailing out the rest of the state.

Every school district that has recently merged should take notice of the HUUSD Board. They are taking much-needed steps in the right direction and it will benefit our students, but in order for it to benefit our taxpayers, the rest of Vermont needs to do the same.

The state needs methods stronger than words and recommendations on school spending.

The state needs more teeth and fewer words.