NEA plans campaign against two-vote budget law

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(Host) The Vermont NEA, the state’s teachers union, is planning to wage an aggressive campaign this fall to overturn a new law that calls for two votes on education budgets in higher spending towns.

Supporters of the law say they’re surprised and dismayed by the group’s actions.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The new law emerged as a compromise plan in the final days of this year’s session – a session in which the Governor and legislative leaders discussed the importance of taking steps to reduce the growth of school spending.

The law calls for towns to present voters with two budget plans if their school spending is greater than the rate of inflation plus one percent.

The first plan would fund spending levels up to the new cap – the second plan would include budget requests above the limit.

Voters would have the opportunity to approve or defeat either or both of the budgets. The new law, which doesn’t affect schools that spend below the cap, goes into effect in 2009.

Vermont NEA executive director Angelo Dorta says the law will hurt the quality of education in many towns:

(Dorta) "It seems to us that the two vote mandate as we call it absolutely diminishes local control of schools where its local citizens and local voters know best the school programs and the staffing levels that they want and can afford."

(Kinzel) Dorta says his group wants to publicly raise this issue with individual lawmakers in an effort to overturn the law before it goes into place:

(Dorta) "To make sure they know our views on this, to make sure that they are accountable as well as us as public school educators and to fill the void that was created when no public input was taken on this measure as it came up at the very end of the session."

(Kinzel) House Education chairwoman Janet Ancel disagrees with Dorta’s assessment of the new law.

(Ancel) "What we’re talking about here, if we do it right, is giving voters additional information. And what we’ve seen with very few exceptions around the state is that voters tend to support their schools. And I think where towns support their schools now, I think they’re going to continue to do that. And where districts have difficulty getting their budget passed, I think they’re probably going to continue to have difficulty. I don’t think that this law is going to make a difference."

(Kinzel) Ancel says it’s also important to realize that local spending decisions do have a wider impact:

(Ancel) "Schools are supported with a statewide tax. Decisions in one school district do affect taxpayers throughout the state. And so it isn’t true that schools are really an island."

(Kinzel) Ancel says there are parts of the new law that seem confusing and she says she’s willing to work with the Vermont NEA during the 2008 session to clarify those parts of the legislation.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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