The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) and dozens of other school districts in Vermont bent over backward this year to present voters with a lean budget on Town Meeting Day last week.
All but five school districts in Vermont, including ours, passed their school budgets. Based on those budgets, average education spending is increasing 1.5 percent overall this year, well under the 2.5 percent growth cap suggested by Vermont Governor Phil Scott last November.
Locally, the budget is up 2.5 percent, but because of a legislative bait and switch that occurred after local towns voted to consolidate school boards early under Act 46, that small increase will have a larger impact. That larger impact has not yet been finalized, but taxpayers can expect a tax increase of some 5 to 7 percent when education tax rates rise from $1.55 to either $1.63 or $1.66. Those numbers won’t be finalized until the Legislature finishes its work this year.
Following the passage of our local budget Governor Phil Scott is now calling for further cuts in education spending. He has tasked state policymakers with coming up with what amounts to cutting some $40 million from the budgets that voters already approved.
We can all appreciate the need to contain education costs and can applaud the work of our district in keeping cost increases to a bare minimum. Rising education costs affect everyone. And, locally, our district complied with the goal set by the governor who has now changed his mind.
It’s the timing of the governor’s newest proclamation that is most irksome. Voters passed school budgets based on the information they had in front of them at the time, based on the representation of what those budgets entailed, what costs were going up and what costs were level funded.
It’s not fair and makes no sense, from a process point of view, to ask that the budgets passed last week be modified to represent something else in terms of a financial commitment.
Do the votes of so many Vermonters carry so little weight and matter so little that the governor can ask the Legislature to either overrule, modify or invalidate those budgets and the work that went into them?
It’s neither fair nor honest to ask school boards to achieve additional savings after a budget has been approved by voters. Where is the integrity of the process?