House, Senate chiefs want stay of execution for state college campuses; critics of trustee board assert urban, UVM bias

By Guy Page

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe this weekend asked Vermont State College (VSC) trustees to not accept Chancellor Jeb Spaulding’s plan to close three rural college campuses, and instead develop a one-year “bridge” budget to buy time to build an alternative plan.

In a joint statement issued this weekend, the two legislative leaders called for a “multi-institutional workgroup to consider options for beyond the 2020-201 academic year.”

Bruce Parker/TNR

Jeb Spaulding, chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges System

Spaulding announced Friday April 10 his plan to close the Lyndon, Johnson and Randolph campuses pending VSC trustee board permission. A vote scheduled for April 20 has been postponed for a week. The chancellor called the closings necessary because Covid-19-related enrollment decreases this year and next, added to chronic, systemic financial woes, have caused an expected $10 million 2021 budget deficit. Demonstrations and grassroots organizing by students, staff, townspeople and many other Vermonters led to statements by Johnson, Ashe and Gov. Phil Scott strongly discouraging – but not slamming the door on – the tri-campus closure.

Gov. Scott said he expects the Legislature to take the lead on solving the state college funding crisis. Vermont has the lowest state support and the highest instate tuition of any state college system in the United States. Spaulding has been warning legislators about state college solvency for several years.

Friday, he — and the many who protested his decision — finally seem to have gotten the Legislature’s undivided attention. Johnson and Ashe called for:

  • An economic analysis of the impact of closure on the three host communities
  • Development of a potential one-year bridge budget that keeps the three campuses operational for the 2020-2021 academic year while decisions about the future of these campuses are more thoughtfully crafted considering both VSCS and State of Vermont needs
  • Establishment of a multi-institution workgroup to consider options for beyond the 2020- 2021 academic year.

The notion that the Vermont Legislature would ride to the fiscal rescue of the Vermont State Colleges was derided by Senate Education Committee Chair Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden), according to news reports. “If anybody believes that we’re going to move this decision into the Legislature to vote to keep these campuses open and get away without a price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars you’re kidding yourself,” Baruth reportedly told VT Digger.

This statement earned Baruth criticism on social media over the weekend. As a University of Vermont professor, he was accused of being unsympathetic to the dire emergency facing UVM’s poorer Vermont cousins. The main UVM campus is located in Chittenden County.

Vermont State Colleges

Northern Vermont University, Lyndon campus

UVM is seeking an additional $25 million in state funds, in addition to its annual $42 million allocation, to help it recover from Covid-19 related lost enrollment and other losses. In a letter sent to Gov. Scott last week, President Suresh Garimella said the UVM endowment fund (worth $566 million) cannot be further accessed because annual spending cannot exceed 4.5%, stock market losses have hurt fund value, and much of the fund is ticketed for specific purposes.

Still, it is clear that UVM functions on a financial plane far above the state colleges. For example, the two-year reconstruction of the athletic facility carries a $95 million pricetag.

Critics of Spaulding’s plan say the trustee board also has a strong Chittenden County focus. Six of the 13 board members (including chair Churchill Hindes of Colchester) live in Chittenden County. None of the trustees live in Randolph, Lyndon or Johnson, the host towns for the three campuses slated for closure. As Protest Vermont State College Closure organizer Ben Luce, an NVU-Lyndon professor, wrote in a letter to Rep. Woodman Page (R-Newport):

“The Board of Trustees lack representation by the NEK, and have generally  treated us as expendable over years, with little regard to the facts of what we actually contribute to the region, or how truly efficient we have become. I note that the VSC Chancellor and Board of Trustees actually attempted something like this last year, but spectacularly mismanaged that attempt, and in the process seriously damaged the Lyndon Campus. That they would do so now in the midst of this crisis is an unforgivable assault on the morale of our students as they struggle just to finish out this semester.”

While also highlighing funding crises in K-12 education, hospitals, and other important service sectors, Gov. Phil Scott seemed to prioritize rural Vermont campuses over urban at his press conference Monday. He said that he would favor Vermont Tech’s Randolph campus over its Chittenden County facilities. “Chittenden County’s doing just fine,” he said.

On social media this weekend, there was no lack of citizen proposals to cut VSC spending while saving the campuses. For example, it was proposed to close the VSC Chancellor’s office in Montpelier, for which VSC took out a long-term lease in 2012. Previously the office had been located in the Waterbury State Complex, but was forced to move after Storm Irene made the office space uninhabitable.

Read more of Guy Page’s reports.

Images courtesy of Vermont State Colleges and Bruce Parker/TNR
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13 thoughts on “House, Senate chiefs want stay of execution for state college campuses; critics of trustee board assert urban, UVM bias

  1. It will be interesting to see what our state uses the billion+ it is getting from the Feds?

  2. If the alums are so exercised about the shuttng down of their beloved alma mater because of budget considerations, I suggest they drum find more students and dig deep into their pockets and DONATE. Colleges depend heavily on their graduates for financial support.

  3. First, let me state that I do not have a solution to this problem. Spaulding is correct that the financial issues and pressures have a long history. However, I agree with the Title of this article that the current Board of Trustees is not constituted as the Statutes written by the General Assembly require. Appointed and elected Trustees are to be geographically diverse and not be possibly biased by proximity to a college. The same Statute prevents a Trustee of the University of Vermont from sitting. The clear intent of the Staute is that the Board should not be weighted in geography or by affiliation.
    The current Board who will be voting on disposing of NVU and VTC ( that is essentially what Spauldings recommendation does), is heavily weighted by Chittenden and Franklin Counties. Some facts , as best as I can extract them are as follows: 6 of 15 in Chittenden, 2 from Franklin, 1 from Rutland, 1 from Wilmington, 1 from Thetford, 1 from Montpelier, 1 from Barre, 1 from Morrisville, and the Student Trustee is from NJ.
    Only 4 of these Trustees either graduated from or have any affiliation with VSC. 4 graduated from UVM, and one, a 7th generation Vermonter, had his entire career at the UVM medical center. As much as I can ascertain, only 6 are native to the state, many did not attend elementary, secondary or even undergraduate school in Vt. Just as an aside, this also currently reflects our General Assembly, as a very large percent were not born here or attended public school here…created and voted Act 46 into existence, which has had the effect of closing small schools and the ongoing permanent ramifications to those Towns.
    UVM has a small percentage of instate Vermonters coming from the public school system enrolled. The largest portion of that small percentage, from Chittenden County and its surrounds. Most can afford the nearly highest in state tuition of all State Universities. The VSC system has over 60 percent of enrolled students who come from Vermont secondary schools, from every corner of the state. Currently, UVM, while supported in very small part by our tax dollars, still has more allotted to it per Vermont student.
    There is some expertise on this Board to think outside the box, but most have business or financial backgrounds, as does Mr. Spaulding, that lead to decisions based solely on business modeling and case studies. Anyone in the Educational field knows that education, done very well, is anything but efficient. I do not have much hope that this Board will have the courage to forge the future of the VSC. I am aware that the lawyers have weighed in an basically agreed that the Board has the power to close the schools, even though the Statute says that they ” cannot dispose of the …institutions under their control without the consent of the General Assembly”. The ” reorganization” will get around that particular intent of the law. Nor will the General Assemnly push to regain their control, as they did not with the similar actions by Act 46.
    Spaulding has essentially struck a public blow to the VSC and guaranteed a black eye that will be difficult to recover from. He has, ineptly, raised this avenue before, as noted in this article. Students will be scrambling to go elsewhere, no matter the outcome of the current political debacle. He is too smart to not have calculated the crushing effects of such a public maneuver. The Board of Trustees may have appointed him Chancellor for this very task. It may well cost him his political future, despite what he claims are altruistic intentions. But the real cost will be to the future of Vermont collegiate youth and the communities they will never return to. Perry E. Parker, JSC 80, Vt. public school teacher 31yrs. 6th gen. Vt.

    • The only way to determine the solution to a problem is, first, to identify the problem.

      As was mentioned in an earlier post, the problem with the State’s colleges is legislative cronyism…i.e. the government picking winners and losers. This is a truism in business and education. VTC, for example, is a threat to traditional academic institutions like UVM, Champlain, St. Michael’s and Middlebury College, to name a few. Unfortunately, VTC, for example, isn’t in the Burlington area and doesn’t have political leverage. As long as VTC, or any educational institution, relies on ‘direct’ government subsidies to exist – and I emphasize ‘direct’, as opposed to ‘indirect’ – Chittenden and Franklin Counties will always have the power to decide which institutions succeed or don’t. Act 46 is a perfect example of the same cronyism affecting Vermont’s K-12 education system.

      That ‘Education’, done very well, is anything but efficient, is a false dichotomy. Government run Education has rarely, if ever, been done well, let alone efficiently. But that doesn’t mean Education can’t be done well and be efficient. There are truly efficient education models available when the marketplace is allowed to choose them. This is not only the case with Vermont’s colleges, but with its K-12 institutions as well.

      The problem, then, is the absence of a free marketplace in education. Nonetheless, the markets, in the long run, always prevail as long as individuals have some semblance of freedom and liberty. And we are watching ‘the market’ in action today. It’s called ‘disruptive innovation’. In the final analysis, when we pick up the pieces to this ‘mess’ we’re in, we will, hopefully, learn our lesson and trust ‘the market’ to lead the way to our future prosperity.

    • This is a coordinated, orchestrated con to get more money out of the state. They all know each other well. Surely this is no surprise to everyone involved, certainly shouldn’t be….

      but then Vermont has $200 million dollar oversite on EB-5 also…..there is a pattern here in Vermont. We had the health care overspending, how much was that? Forgotten it was huge.

      So this is once again proving that NOBODY can see or knows what in is going on within this state. It leads directly back to our ethics grade of D-, one of the lowest in the nation.

      Want to know other areas…..affordable housing, healthcare….we’ve only just seen a corner of the iceberg. Vermont is being fleeced of tax payer money of epic proportions. Want to know another area…GRANT MONEY….aka Free Money.

      And know they’ll play games with the legal structure of who can close, etc. etc.

      Vermont needs to wake up from our coma, in one sense it’s a simple problem to solve. Cut $25 million from the budget. Be positive cash flow. Cut pay 5% across that board, if that’s not enough cut pay again. Please we are adults in a real world, not fantasy land.

      The immediate problem is simple, just not easy or palatable. Excellence in our educational system is more difficult, we need massive reworking. It’s all a con to fleece more money from Montpelier at the expense of our educational system, tax payers, students and teachers.

      There is incompetence. People are not doing their jobs well. Replacements are needed.

    • This is a bombshell landing on our College systems – and on our legislature…..

      “Only 4 of these Trustees either graduated from or have any affiliation with VSC. 4 graduated from UVM, and one, a 7th generation Vermonter, had his entire career at the UVM medical center. As much as I can ascertain, only 6 are native to the state, many did not attend elementary, secondary or even undergraduate school in Vt. Just as an aside, this also currently reflects our General Assembly, as a very large percent were not born here or attended public school here…created and voted Act 46 into existence, which has had the effect of closing small schools and the ongoing permanent ramifications to those Towns.” Thank you Perry Parker!!

      Read this over twice!! PAY ATTENTION WHEN YOU NEXT VOTE !!!

  4. “I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe further that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other. I doubt too whether any other convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution.…” Benjamin Franklin address to the 1787 Constitutional Convention

    Consider this a harbinger of things to come.
    ___________
    Vt. towns, state brace for collapse in property taxes:
    https://www.wcax.com/content/news/Vt-towns-seek-waiver-from-property-tax-late-fees-569832101.html

    Vermont League of Cities and Town’s Karen Horn says “the VLCT wants the Legislature to give municipalities the authority to lower their own tax rates and waive the 8% fee when property owners are late on their taxes”. She says it’s aimed at helping people who’ve lost income during the crisis and can’t pay their taxes. “Eventually, your house goes to tax sale — nobody wants that to happen right now,” Horn said.
    ___________

    So, “your house goes to tax sale”! Ostensibly, ‘nobody wants that to happen right’? Don’t count on it. Forty percent of Vermont’s workforce is employed by the government, education, and healthcare sectors. Along with their families, friends and the various businesses and non-profit organizations supporting them, they represent a significant special interest majority in State governance….in fact, a ‘super majority’. Perhaps this is why Karen Horn is now floating the tyranny of home foreclosures for our consideration, ignoring the fact that Vermont property owners are protected by law (32 V.S.A. § 6061 ) from paying more than 5% of their income (give or take) in property taxes or ‘allocable rent’.

    I know many TNR readers abhor the VT Property Tax Prebate system because it allows political activists to run roughshod over our State government when low income Vermonters aren’t affected by (and approve) the ever increasing budgets passed by the State legislature and various Town Annual Meetings.

    But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. The VT Property Tax Prebate may be your only saving grace as the State’s direct democracy, with its super majority and its special interest groups, lose funding and begin to eat their young. As Benjamin Franklin also opined: “Democracy is like two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.”

    We’ve reached the tipping point. The only way to stop this tyranny is to stay off their menu and cut them off at their roots. Stop funding them and prepare to pick up the pieces afterward – if you can survive the onslaught of ad hominem attacks that are sure to be directed at those of us who still “ …hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

  5. Must change board members to get a clear view of the true situation. Hair brain ideas of closing existing campuses over a three day weekend is even new in my book. Chittenden county members should be excused from the final vote. There is enough money if used correctly. Vermont’s high education is on the line and some people won’t move from their positions which they think right. We are paying enough people milling around in Montpelier to come up with some working solutions. Dr. Robert Clark keeps coming up in my mine. Pat Moulton needs a business class 101. Allowing big money projects happening that she was ill advised on. Programs will need to be looked at leading to a reduction in staff and faculty. I could go on but probably lost everybody by now. I am a VTC Graduate, UVM Graduate, School Teacher 30year, Had a lumber business and a logging business up until February last. Selectman 16 years in Chelsea, Board at VTC and UVM.

  6. The facilities are UVM are over the top. They created the Taj Mahal, they can pay for it, while they study their social justice classes. I’m a graduate from UVM and it’s pretty stunning what they have done, it’s excessive and that’s being very kind. No consideration of cost was considered. Yeah sorry we’ve got bigger fish to fry than pay for your excess.

    • fantastic @@@Millions of new money spent on UVM’s over the top luxuries,

      and a pittance to 4 state colleges

  7. Our Vermont Educational System is a complete mess.

    The teachers and the students are the ones suffering the most. If you stand back, and take a look, it’s from Day Care/Pre School, Elementary, High School and clearly our colleges are crashing with epic proportions.

    The whole educational system needs a complete reboot.

    Teachers can be well paid, we can have good local schools, even in our small state. However if we don’t get a handle on expenses, yeah it will all come crashing down. Our financial ineptitude on a state level is clear to see on the educational level too.

    This was one of the three platforms we found Vermonters wanted to address

    AFFORDABILITY – SCHOOL FUNDING – OUR DRUG EPIDEMIC

    We’re gonna have the same problems for years to come unless one of two things happen, we go bankrupt or address our problems. it’s best for everyone if we don’t go bankrupt, but perhaps since organizations refuse to change, bankruptcy is the best solution.

  8. Rules are out the window – along with our constitutional rights. Tell the UVM President to either cough up funds or pass a new law taxing the endowment.

    That’s what happens to the rest of us when the State decides they want more money.

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