Educators and parents seek school budget cap rejection

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(Host) A group of local educators and parents came to Montpelier today to ask the House Education committee to reject Governor Douglas’s proposed cap on local school budgets.

They argue that the state-mandated cap will cause significant problems because local school boards don’t have much control over the major items driving their budgets.

But the governor says their concerns aren’t representative of the average taxpayer.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Last week the Senate, in a vote that surprised many political observers, gave its narrow approval to the budget cap plan when Lt. Governor Brian Dubie broke a 15 to 15 tie vote.

The proposal establishes a 4% cap on local school spending for budgets that are considered next March and it imposes a 3 % budget limit for the following 4 years.

The plan allows local towns to exceed the cap only when more than 60% of voters support the higher spending amount.

Members of the House Education committee on Thursday afternoon held a public hearing on the proposed cap and most witnesses strongly opposed it.

Laura Soares has been a school board member in Randolph for 14 years:

(Soares) “This bill seems to imply that school board members in communities have been irresponsible in trying to keep budgets under control and that only with penalties and punishments will we be reined in, when that’s the furthest from the truth. I know literally hundreds of school board members and all of them are trying to control costs.”

(Kinzel) Burlington resident Nate Venet says he opposes the budget cap plan because the 60% threshold undermines local control:

(Venet) “If a community votes to raise its school budget in the future, it will no longer be able to do so with a simple majority of its members. A minority interest will be able to hold a school district hostage and they will have gotten their mandate to do so not from their own community, but instead as an edict from Montpelier. That takes away a town’s ability to make its own decisions about school funding.”

(Kinzel) At a press conference just before the public hearing, Governor Jim Douglas said he wasn’t going to give much weight to the testimony from the hearing.

(Douglas) “Now I know this afternoon there’s going to be a public hearing. And there have been special interest groups running advertisements encouraging people to come. So I think we can predict what will happen this afternoon. And there will be folks largely from the education establishment. Well taxpayers don’t have a lobbyist here but they do have me.”

(Kinzel) The House Education committee rejected the budget cap approach when it drafted its own cost containment bill. Now House members of a special conference committee will have to decide if they want to reconsider their position on the plan.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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