VTDigger.org and The Citizen
Champlain Valley School District is poised to lose more than $778,000 to the state over the next two fiscal years as part of the deal Gov. Phil Scott and the Legislature struck in June to settle the state budget negotiations.
The state of Vermont expects to recapture nearly $13 million in education fund money from school districts under an agreement Gov. Scott reached with House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe in late June during a special legislative session.
Almost every Vermont school district will have money “recaptured” – districts will receive less than what they were previously expecting from the state. In fiscal year 2018, which ends next June, each affected district will effectively pay back 65 percent of its share of the $13 million. In fiscal year 2019, the districts give up the remaining 35 percent.
Champlain Valley School District, which encompasses Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne, St. George, and Williston, will lose $505,972 from the state this year; another $272,446 is targeted for the following fiscal year.
CVSD school board chair Dave Connery said that though the total figure seems like a significant amount of money, the actual impact on the budget over the next two years will be minimal. He said the school board overestimated the initial budget, so the actual figure that needs to be cut is much less. “We put in conservative estimates when we did the budget,” Connery said, “so we currently have a budget that has a number higher than what we settled at, and we have some cushion there.”
The figure that will need to be cut is closer to $100,000, he said. “We’re not on the hook for $540,000. We’re not going to have to go look for it.”
Though the school board and administrators are downplaying the significance of the amount, Shelburne-St. George Representative Kate Webb acknowledged that this negotiation was not ideal. “Instituting a wholesale change in collective bargaining at an impossibly late date without a proper hearing never felt like good governing,” she said. “This type of change takes time to consider, and may not ultimately create the taxpayer savings purported.”
CVSD ranks second on the list of school districts on the recapture list behind Essex-Westford. The total amount of money the state is recapturing is equal to a little bit less than what the districts would save by negotiating contracts that require teachers and support staff to pay 20 percent of their health insurance premiums.
Connery said that the school board was in the midst of a local teacher contract negotiation simultaneously with the state negotiation, which had an effect on the eventual outcome. “The thought that healthcare and salary are disconnected is not a realistic assumption,” he said. “The two of them go hand in hand, and if you decrease one there’s a movement on the other side to increase the other.”
Jeanne Jensen, chief operating officer of the school district, said, “Our modeling suggests that the agreement the board has already reached with our teachers covers about 80 per cent of the $778,418. The gap is ultimately dependent on which health care plans our employees choose during open enrollment this fall. We have been looking at ways to close the remaining 20% since the compromised was reached and will be working with the school board on possible spending reductions as we move through the fiscal year.”
Connery said that in the long run, the amount isn’t that significant. “We’re talking about a $75 million budget,” he said. Because the schools within the district no longer operate on separate budgets, there is no way to tell whether one school will feel the cuts more than another.
Erin Mansfield from VT Digger and Chea Waters Evans from The Citizen contributed to this report.