Report from Montpelier

Joan Lenes
Joan Lenes

by Rep. Joan Lenes

Thank you to all who have gotten in touch with ideas on the State’s budget. It is never an easy process and seems even more difficult this session. The more input we get from Vermonters, the broader the range of possibilities. We are certainly thinking beyond any box I have seen before. Last week’s article by Rep. Kate Webb gave a clear picture on where we stand, at least for that specific window in time. Things will develop and change until the very end.

The discussion of education, quality, delivery, and legality is always in the forefront of my mind. I am privileged to serve on the Champlain Valley Union High School Board as well as the Chittenden South Supervisory Union (CSSU) Board. On Monday, April 6, the school district will host a legislative meeting to talk with all Senators from Chittenden County as well as the State Reps. coming from the communities that are served by our Districts. I look forward to our two groups having this discussion.

Certainly, legislators heard loud and clear that property tax is climbing at an unsustainable pace. The conversation within the House Education Committee has been rich with ideas, solutions, and new problems for us to consider. Because I sit in both arenas, I see how both sides have valid points. I try to bring that middle ground to the forefront. CSSU is a model for others in the State. I do realize we have a large supervisory district feeding the high school, as well as good-sized schools in our pre-K through 8th grades. That is a luxury that many districts within the State do not have. The consolidation conversation does not have to be one that closes buildings unless that is what makes the most sense and the local communities agree. Consolidation could offer more flexibility with staffing and course offerings. This could offer some savings for districts, but more importantly, could offer better learning opportunities for our Vermont children.

Another cost saving proposal that had been on the table was to cap spending at a two percent increase. Many, including myself, did not think this was a good solution because it would favor the higher spending schools. A cap on a school that spends $16,000 per pupil versus one that spends $12,000 gives an advantage to the currently high spending district. School boards work diligently to hold costs and still offer opportunities for students. CVU was able to present voters this month with a budget that was much lower than a two percent increase. Because of all the feedback the Education Committee received, the current proposal is to offer a more flexible local spending cap ranging from 1.3 percent to 4.1 percent. This would allow school districts to calculate their allowed spending increase by either their total education spending amount or by the per equalized pupil spending amount. Each district’s allowable increase would no longer be capped by a statewide amount. This “incentive” is a more fair than the earlier proposal of two percent cap across the board.

The Appropriations Committee will offer their budget proposal to all members of the House on Thursday and Friday, March 26 and 27. As of this Monday March 23, the Appropriations Committee has closed the budget gap and developed a balanced budget. If you are able, come to the State House or listen as the debate is streamed live on Vermont Public Radio.

Stop by Bruegger’s Bagel any Tuesday morning 7:30-8:30am with ideas, concerns, questions or interesting conversations to share with me. I can always be reached at (802) 999-9363 or jlenes@leg.state.vt.us. Messages can be left at the Sergeant at Arms office (800) 322-5616.