As school boards across the state forge ahead to complete their school budgets before Town Meeting Day, Act 46 woes in the Vermont legislature continue to complicate matters. This past week, lawmakers in the House and Senate worked on different changes to the allowable growth percentage portion of the bill; votes on these amendments were further complicated and delayed by major figure miscalculations by the state government. While Charlotte’s school budget will be minimally affected by these changes and complications, there are still unanswered questions at a time when most school boards would like to be putting their budgets to rest.
Confusion and delays began Jan. 15 with the legislature’s announcement that they miscalculated per-student expenditure figures; these numbers were used to determine each school district’s allowable growth percentage (AGP). Those inaccurate figures were used to determine school budget targets, and some districts are now suffering the consequences by needing to make last-minute cuts and additions. Charlotte school board Chair Mark McDermott said that Charlotte’s new per-student expenditure figure will have minimum impact on the budget because the amount is fairly insignificant, and because the timing of the legislature’s fixes will most likely take too long for them to make any impact. “For this year, we’re stuck,” McDermott said. “I think it’s too late. But for next year, anything helps.”
Charlotte Representative Mike Yantachka said Act 46 is in flux, and this seemed like an understatement this past week as the Vermont legislature tried to accommodate both taxpayers and school boards by addressing the AGP portion of the bill. A measure was initially approved in the House to increase the AGP .9% to allow for increased health insurance costs for teachers, a factor that is beyond the control of school districts; simultaneously, a measure in the Senate was approved to repeal the AGP portion of the bill entirely. The House added an amendment to the bill that decreases the tax penalty from one dollar to 25 cents for every dollar that exceeds the AGP amount; this change was meant to appease school districts who faced trouble because of the miscalculated per-student expenditures.
Yantachka explained that once amendments are approved in both chambers, the House and Senate will come together and attempt to arrive at a compromise, hopefully before the date on which school boards are required to submit a final budget. He said he supports the .9% increase in the AGP and believes that constraints need to be put on spending. He said in the case of Act 46, the constraints that were chosen may have been a little too tight.
Yantachka is hopeful that the AGP increase will help. He said they would give Charlotte some breathing room. “I think the [school budget] cuts have been very conscientious,’ he said. “Maybe they still will want to go along with the cuts in order to right-size the budget and spending at school, but it will give them a little more wiggle room and help to restore some of those cuts that maybe cut a little too close to the bone.”
Chittenden County Senator Michael Sirotkin is hopeful that the matter will be put to rest quickly. “I do think there will be a resolution this week,” he said, noting that when the leadership is motivated, things can happen very fast.
“I’d support the repeal, especially given the mess with the numbers,” Sirotkin said. “I think what ultimately is likely to happen this week will be that the adjustable spending limits will be a shadow of their former selves.”
No matter what happens in Montpelier, it appears as if Charlotte’s school budget, which was approved by the school board this past week, will move ahead in its current form to a vote on Town Meeting Day. Regardless of the trouble in the state government, McDermott said the Charlotte budget is on point for this year, and that Lead Principal Barbara Anne Komons-Montroll performed a difficult task with expertise.
“She has done an excellent job of turning over every stone and making us run more efficiently,” McDermott said of Komons-Montroll. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t some things we’d like to put back, but what she’s done is pretty amazing.”