Editor’s note: This commentary is by Weiland Ross, a resident of Sunderland. He is a life member of NEA who served for 30 years as the chief contract negotiator for the school in which he worked, and also has served on the local school board in his Vermont town.
Our next elections in Vermont are the town meeting votes for municipal and education budgets. Municipal budgets are usually not a problem. Most selectboards are careful, if not frugal, spenders. Their budgets routinely pass without much discussion.
Education budgets also generally are approved routinely. This is the year that this habit absolutely must change. Vermont’s economy is in dire straits. The local education budgets must be scrutinized and challenged before they are approved. On Dec. 1, Vermont Tax Commissioner Craig Bolio, in a letter to be sent to the Legislature, projected a 9% rise in education property taxes next year. The “education property taxes” are all local. They are levied to cover each town’s share of of the state’s education expenses and are collected entirely from local property owners. The state’s share of the education expense comes from a mix of sales, meals, room, purchase and use taxes, etc. These revenues have nose-dived because of business lost to the pandemic. The commissioner projects the state’s share to drop by at least $39,000,000.
Meanwhile, school budgets are expected to increase. This is in spite of dropping enrollment and the fact that the schools are providing significantly less education than they normally do. Education workers are the largest group of employees in the state that have not had their incomes cut, or their jobs eliminated, by the pandemic regulations that effectively lock down much of our economy. The CDC officials and the nation’s official oracle, Dr. Fauci, agree that there is no valid reason to avoid in-school learning for elementary and high school age students. The harmful effects this is having on the intellectual, social and emotional growth of our youngest students is a heavy price to pay in order to ease the fears of the teachers that somehow see themselves as being at more risk when dealing with children in controlled environments than retail and service workers who deal with the public at large on a random basis. It is time to put this pampered industry on the same plane as the real world.
According to information supplied by the business administrator, the districts that make up the school union that my town is part of will end the present school year with accumulated surplus monies totaling $2,163,989. (This includes the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years.) About $500,000 of last year’s surplus was voted to be put in a “tax stabilization reserve fund.” The other
$1,700,000 is unaccounted for. The bottom line is that we are told to expect a tax increase even though there are significant surpluses on hand. School employees are being paid to do less work, and some are kept under contract with very little to do. Do the speech therapists and other “special teachers” make house calls? How about the special education teachers — do they perform miraculous good deeds via Zoom? Inquiring minds need to know.
How many of Vermont’s other school districts are experiencing the same windfalls? Now is a golden opportunity for voters across the state to demand a realistic accounting from the Vermont-NEA and their minions in the education establishment. The rest of the population is told to
suck it up and endure their hardships to make ends meet. It is time to demand that the Vermont-NEA stop asking for more money to do less.
We are not “all in this together.” The industry that receives the overwhelming share of public monies feasts while the rest of the workers worry about whether Congress will come up with another relief bail out bill. It is time for the public and parents to demand a realistic accounting from our educators. They have been un-vetted for too long! Vote no on their budgets and demand an accounting.