Scott Says State Could Avoid Property Tax Hike By Reducing School Staff
Lawmakers are facing a situation in 2018 that they usually try to avoid: supporting a significant increase in the state's property tax rate in an election year.
Under state law, on Dec. 1 the Vermont Tax Commissioner is required to calculate the statewide property tax rate based on current spending needs.
Last week, the Scott Administration said that it would take a nine cent increase - or about seven percent - to cover proposed local budgets for next year and to maintain spending levels that were increased in 2017 with nearly $50 million in one-time funds.
But the governor is making it clear that while the projected tax hike is required by law it doesn't reflect his position on this issue.
"This is not my recommendation, my recommendation is quite the opposite,” says Scott. “I believe we should keep property taxes the same as last year."
To avoid a tax increase, the governor is looking at a proposal to mandate higher staff-to-student ratios. Currently, Vermont has an average of four students for every staff member.
"If we could go from four to one to five to one, we'd save over $100 million." - Gov. Phil Scott
"If we could go from four to one, to five to one, we'd save over $100 million,” says Scott. “It's all in labor from my perspective and also in infrastructure."
Darren Allen of Vermont NEA, the state's teachers union, says local schools should make their own staffing decisions and he says the governor's plan is a disaster.
"The notion that you can cookie-cutter your way into doing right by students is absurd on its face,” says Allen. “We have seen local school boards as they face declining enrollment, which is a real thing, we have seen them adjust accordingly."
"The notion that you can cookie cutter your way into doing right by students is absurd on its face." Vermont NEA spokesperson Darren Allen
The Vermont School Boards Association has a somewhat different take on the governor's plan.
Executive Director Nicole Mace agrees with the teacher's union that it's a mistake to look to higher staffing levels as the solution to a short term funding problem.
But Mace says it is appropriate for individual schools to review their long term staffing needs.
"Staffing levels and class sizes are all incredibly important in terms of the educational program that's offered to kids and that's a program that needs to be planned for and well understood by the communities," says Mace.
The issue of higher student-to-staff ratios will be one of the key items discussed at a special Education Summit December 18.
Clarification 12/6/2017 12:28 p.m. The text and headline have been updated to make clear that any reductions would apply to overall staff numbers — not just teachers — and that while the idea has been suggested, there is as yet no concrete proposal.
Update 12/6/2017 2:11 p.m. An updated version of the audio story has now replaced the original version on this page in order to reflect the clarifications made to the text and headline earlier.