Education Commissioner concerned about Douglas plan to freeze spending

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(Host) Incoming Education commissioner Armando Vilaseca says he has concerns about Governor Douglas’s plan to freeze state education spending this year.

Vilaseca says the state needs to have a discussion about appropriate levels of education funding – and he argues this can’t happen using the Governor’s timeline.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) In his Inaugural Address, Douglas called on lawmakers to level fund school spending this year even though most local school boards have already finalized their budgets.

Douglas says the plan is needed because state education spending has increased roughly 60% over the past decade while the number of students in Vermont has declined by 10%.

Incoming Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca says the state needs to have a comprehensive dialogue about overall education spending but he says it’s a discussion that needs to be done in a thoughtful manner:

(Vilaseca) "I don’t think we can do it justice trying to do this in two three or four weeks…this is not a decision that can be done in a vacuum by board members either there have to be community meeting prioritization about what we want what we expect from our schools what are must dos what are may dos what are things we can do without…and I think that’s the challenge that local boards would face trying to do this in an abridged manner."

Speaking on VPRs Vermont Edition, Douglas said the freeze needs to be implemented now because all parts of state government need to share the burden of tough economic times:

(Douglas) "We have state government that’s going to be spending several percent less next year than they did four years ago we have businesses laying off employees closing their doors in some cases employees are taking pay cuts we’re seeing tremendous impact on employees and working families of our state and yet K through 12 education continues to rise at 6 or more percent a year perhaps a little less next year well that’s just not reality."

Commissioner Vilaseca is also concerned that the freeze will place many school boards in a difficult position because they have a number of fixed costs to deal with:

(Vilaseca) "There are contracts binding contracts that school districts have not just with teachers but with support staff with transportation companies with food services providers all kinds of contracts that would have to be reviewed in order to make that happen some of them don’t allow for those outs."

But Douglas says the state faces many of the same problems:

(Douglas)"Welcome to my world we’ve got the same pressures I have a multi year contract with union employees that I have to respect we’ve got health insurance costs for state employees retired state employees and the state pays for the benefits for retired teachers…I think while we’re cutting back with an increased caseload it’s more than reasonable to ask school districts to level fund to meet a decreasing caseload."

Douglas’s plan faces an uncertain future because Democratic leaders at the Statehouse have expressed very little support for it.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.


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