Thursday, January 7, 2016

The ill planned consequences of Act 46 in Vermont

Ask anyone in Vermont public schools and they'll give you an earful about Act 46 legislation currently brewing in Vermont.

The essence of the Act 46 plan makes sense: Merge small school districts into larger ones. There are a lot of benefits to that as spending in Vermont education continues to rise while enrollment declines. Merging some management costs and oversight has benefits.

But there's a troubling / devastating thread to Act 46 as well.

There are financial cap spending limits within Act 46 that are proving more than challenging aka crushing. With rising healthcare costs and obligations to pay salary increases contractually, Act 46 spending caps are wreaking havoc on school budgets, kids opportunities and those who support student learning. Especially for schools with renovation plans, where enrollment is actually increasing, or with very diverse populations that require large ELL programs. 

Many districts are trying to be as thoughtful as they can. Some  will succeed on some levels. But... I'm listening to schools throughout Vermont who are cutting to their contractual obligations and seniority. Valuable support programs for kids and families and creative programs are being cut. Many are preparing to RIF some excellent new teachers. Many places are casting aside plans they've made to upgrade and renovate learning spaces.

The legislation was well intended... but not well thought out.

There was some hope that Act 46 may be modified in time for schools to avoid dramatic cuts... but now it appears no changes will be made to Act 46 prior to school budgets being submitted. 

“Too often we look for rapid short-term solutions without realizing all the consequences, and I believe that’s what the spending caps turned out to be,” said Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden.

We can do better.

More people can be involved in planning more thoughtfully. These decisions can be made with school leaders rather than at them.

Decisions like this can be in line with school budget and planning cycles instead of making them reactive. They can be planned into contract negotiations.

Public education remains one of our most valuable resources.

We just have to remind legislators not to make these decisions in vacuums.


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