Administration officials say Gov. Phil Scott will unveil a plan Tuesday to plug a nearly $60 million hole in the state’s education fund.
Statewide property tax rates would need to go up by about 7 cents next year in order to fund the school budgets approved by local voters back on Town Meeting Day.
“The governor has directed the administration to come up with a way to close the FY '19 deficit with what will mostly be one-time funds, if not all one-time funds,” Young said.
But Young says that one-time money won’t be available to offset property tax increases in future years. She says the governor’s proposal will also include a plan to reduce costs in public schools over the next five years.
“So we are looking at what we can do to right-size our infrastructure and our overhead so that we can deliver better outcomes to the smaller population of students,” Young says.
That push for guaranteed reductions in education spending could put the Republican governor on a collision course with Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.
Lawmakers have thus far been mostly cool to Scott’s cost-cutting proposals. Last week, for instance, Scott proposed potentially stiff financial penalties for school districts with high staffing levels.
Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe says lawmakers support getting a handle on personnel costs. But he says that’s something that’s already happening organically. And he says mandating headcounts in local schools threatens the quality and reputation of Vermont schools.
“If the message they hear is that in Vermont, what we’re doing is we’re acting like the Roman army and decimating by taking one out of every 10 teachers or something, it does not really send the proper message,” Ashe says.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson says a 2015 law, which required school districts across the state to merge into larger governance entities, is already beginning to yield structural savings. And she says lawmakers have already taken steps this session to reduce future costs, by reforming the way Vermont pays for special education services.
“So I think the House has done really tremendous work in trying to curb costs over the long term and make sure that we respect the local decisions and local control,” Johnson says.
Both Johnson and Ashe say “respect” for local control means leaving operational decisions — like staffing levels — to local voters and school boards.
Lawmakers have also expressed concern about the use of one-time money to fill the gap in next year’s education fund.
Administration officials say they'll unveil details of the plan Tuesday.