MONTPELIER – School board leaders across Vermont are becoming increasingly concerned about their districts’ budget outlook for the 2021-22 school year, believing deep cuts will be likely without financial support from the State Legislature.
During a meeting with the House Committee on Education, a handful of school board chairs from districts across Vermont explained that rising healthcare costs and other expenses are to blame.
“We believe that we have made responsible cuts to our budget, and if not passed on Town Meeting Day, deeper cuts would have an effect on the quality and continuity of our programs,” said Alison Notte, Chair of Rutland City Public Schools Board of Commissioners.
The gap between a budget that voters are likely to support and one that school districts believe will sustain quality education is growing – look no further than Oxbow Unified Union School District, which had to go back to the drawing board four times on its budget for the 2020-21 school year before voters finally approved it on Wednesday night.
“We cannot have another 13 percent increase in our healthcare insurance and not cut programs or staff at a local level,” said Danielle Corti, Oxbow Unified Union School Board Chair. “There’s just no way that’s going to be supported in our community.”
Corti believes the Legislature should take its time to find a long-term solution for Vermont’s education struggles, rather than rush something through immediately.
We need to throw out the map, and realize that a new way must be found,” Corti said.
The South Burlington School District has experienced similar struggles in passing a budget. Bridget Burkardt, Chair of the SBSD School Board, explained why voters were reluctant to sign off until the district’s third attempt.
“Taxpayers cannot continue to support education budgets that are growing significantly faster than their own incomes,” Burkardt said.
John Stroup, Addison Northwest School District School Board Chair, said a priority needs to be placed on getting students better home broadband access, as well as newer devices for remote learning. He also said vaccinating teachers should be a higher priority.
“Our people are resilient, but we’re tired, we’re stressed and we need your support,” Stroup said.
Teachers also spoke with the House Committee on Education on Thursday. Stephanie Miller, a Colchester elementary teacher, said teachers are doing their best to support students with limited resources, but are stretching themselves thin.
“Vermont teachers have shown that we actually can put an airplane together in the air while it’s moving, but it does come at a cost,” Miller said. “I would say if you wanted to know what our biggest challenge is going forward, it is the mental health of the teachers and students.”