Douglas calls on school boards to cut spending next year

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(Host) The Douglas Administration is ramping up pressure on local school boards to cut spending for next year.

But the Vermont School Boards Association says the governor’s call comes much too late in the local budget process and is probably unconstitutional.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Douglas sent a letter to local school board members urging them to level fund their budgets to help reduce burdens on the state budget.

Administration Secretary Neale Lunderville says many departments are facing severe cuts. And he says a freeze on state school spending will allow the administration to transfer 40 million dollars in teacher retirement costs from the General Fund over to the Education Fund. It’s a move that would free up a lot of money in the general fund.

(Lunderville) “The governor’s proposal is one that protects property taxpayers at the same time averting some devastating cuts in Human Services. And it’s a responsible proposal and the governor has asked for school boards to help in this effort."

(Kinzel) John Nelson is the director of the Vermont School Boards Association. He says many school boards have finalized their budgets for voters to consider on Town Meeting Day and he thinks these voters should have the final say on local education spending:

(Nelson) “The one thing we do know is that in every district this year, a school budget will be adopted and it will be adopted by the people who are going to pay the bill. So unlike other areas of state government, the taxpayers, the voters in each school district will decide the level of spending that they are willing to bear. And I think that’s a pretty good way to do business."

(Kinzel) Under the governor’s plan, communities could increase their budgets if local residential taxpayers finance all the additional spending.

Nelson says this is the principle that the Vermont Supreme Court found to be unconstitutional in a landmark case known as the Brigham decision.

(Nelson) “That throws into question the whole equal opportunity issue and that’s exactly the kind of situation that we were required to get away from when Act 60 was implemented as a result of the Brigham decision."

(Kinzel) Lunderville believes the plan is legal because only local residential taxpayers would be affected by the governor’s plan.

(Lunderville) “The governor respects the Brigham decision and believes that school districts need to have substantially equal access to education funding. And that’s something that the plan is built on and we’ve looked at that question and we believe the approach that we have does meet the Brigham test."

(Kinzel) Lunderville says the governor will call for additional cuts in his budget address on Thursday afternoon. He hopes local school boards will understand the need to freeze state education spending when they see the full extent of the proposed cuts.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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