Schools Will Be Asked To Tighten Budgets

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(Host) The Douglas Administration wants local school officials to hold the line on next year’s budgets.

The administration also plans to go to the Legislature with proposals to trim spending on education. One of the proposals would give the education commissioner more power to consolidate school districts.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The memo from Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca and Finance Commissioner Jim Reardon says the state faces a continuing budget crisis.

The two commissioners say the recession has weakened the Vermont economy, leaving a high unemployment rate and declining state revenues.

So the officials want school boards to constrain spending. Jim Reardon is commissioner of Finance and Management.

(Reardon) We have significant out-year deficits. I don’t think we should take any options off the table. I think they all require exploration.

(Dillon) Reardon says the commissioners sent their memo now in order to give school boards enough time to build tight budgets.

(Reardon) So we felt it was very important to put them on notice as to some of the items we were considering.

(Dillon) One proposal requires school employees to cover 20% of their health care costs. Another would end a grant program for small schools, and a third would give the state more power to consolidate school districts.

Some of the recommendations would affect decisions made by local school boards. But Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca says a greater role for the state is justified since property taxpayers from around the state now pay into the state Education Fund.

(Vilaseca) Local boards are really the power base in Vermont. And there are many things that maybe aren’t working in the same direction. So to be able to have the commissioner of education have the authority to make some of those things happens may be more efficient and effective.

(Dillon) The union that represents most Vermont teachers says some of the recommendations would limit local control. Darren Allen is spokesman for the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association.

He says health insurance benefits, for example, should be negotiated between the union and school boards.

(Allen) It is not the state’s role to tell local school boards how to manage their benefits and how to manage their salaries.

(Dillon) But the Douglas administration says the state needs to look at any possible savings. Commissioner Vilaseca says that requiring school employees to pay 20% of their health care premiums could save around $14 million a year.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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