Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter wants to eliminate a key part of Act 46, the state's new school district consolidation law. She says the law's budget caps will have a negative impact on many school budgets.
When Act 46 was passed last winter, a number of lawmakers insisted that the proposal include a mechanism to control costs at the local level.
A variable spending cap was chosen as the way to do it. The cap would be in place for a two-year period.
Here's how it works: Towns with high per-pupil spending can only increase their budgets roughly 1 percent before tough penalties are imposed.
Towns in the middle of the spending scale are allowed to experience budget growth of between 2 and 3 percent without triggering the penalty section.
Low spending towns can boost budgets by approximately 4 or 5 percent without being penalized.
Speaking on Vermont Edition Friday, Minter says the caps represent poor public policy.
"We need to look at the impact of these decisions,” she said. “The cap is a very blunt instrument. It doesn't take into account the very unique circumstances that each school happens to find itself in at the time that they're looking at the spending allowance."
Minter says she generally supports the basic goal of Act 46: to create school districts with at least 900 students and to have a single school board be responsible for all aspects of education in the new larger district.
“I believe we can have cost savings and efficiencies,” she says. “Just imagine if you could share teachers, share cafeteria food services, do better sharing of transportation services, IT [information technology] services.”
Minter says one way to reduce property tax burdens is to shift some of the expenses in the school budget to a different tax source. It's something that she thinks lawmakers should take a look at during the 2016 session.
"It is not simple to change that tax. Many people have looked at … the income tax. I think that you would have to have some level of property tax to ensure stability, but perhaps there is a different way to look at funding some of those highly increasing social services and the cost to do that schools are taking on,” Minter says.
Act 46 also creates special financial incentives to encourage school districts to merge, but these incentives are gradually phased out beginning next summer.
Minter says the deadline should be extended to give the districts more time to evaluate how a proposed merger could affect their schools.