In the first week of this legislative session, there were displays of collegiality among committee members and discussion about the need to improve upon the complex initiatives currently underway. While school boards and school district personnel were hoping for a review of and necessary adjustments to existing initiatives, several new educational topics have been added to the legislative agenda. Below is a summary of some educational topics being discussed. It is difficult to predict at this point which will result in bill introduction and/or follow-up action:
Act 173 - Legislators are interested in understanding professional development for the implementation of Act 173, even as they grapple with a complex, yet very informative Weighing Study.
Tax Structure - Declining enrollment and an aging population are two factors affecting the stability of Vermont's tax structure.
Education Funding - Education funding is a perennial interest of the General Assembly and the work of the Tax Structure Commission in combination with the release of the Weighting Study, Vermont’s changing demographics and the rising cost of education all may contribute to an interest in continuing a review Act 166 - Legislators will hear about the EDC’s Prekindergarten Education Study and aims to make minor adjustments to address persistent challenges of Universal Prekindergarten. REL report on UPK enrollment in VT (2016-17) can be found here.
Literacy - In addition to suggestions in the DMG report, NAEP scores are precipitating conversations on effective literacy instruction.
Proficiency-Based Learning - Legislators are interested in the successes and challenges of implementation across the state: as well as the effect on college acceptance.
AOE Capacity - Secretary Dan French presented testimony, detailing shifts from a shallow, yet wide organization to a deeper and more narrow organization. The goal is for increased internal cross-training and capacity-building, yet many positions remain vacant, including a state-wide Literacy Specialist position.
School Construction - A moratorium on school construction, deferred maintenance, and buildings constructed during the industrial age has resulted in many schools needing repair.
State Board of Education - Legislators are reviewing proposals to shift some current SBE responsibilities to the Agency of Education.
Universal Afterschool Opportunities - The Governor has requested the establishment of a task force to analyze the cost and administration of a proposed universal afterschool program of the Education Funding System.
School Meals - S223 is a bill to require all public schools in Vermont to make available school breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge.
Yesterday afternoon, the Employer Commissioners informed us that the arbitrator has selected the Employee Commissioners’ Last-Best-Offer as the statewide health benefit for school employees. The Employer Commissioners will not receive the written decision for several days, but we wanted to inform you as soon as we heard which proposal the arbitrator selected so that you can begin to analyze the fiscal impacts for your district(s) as you conclude the FY21 budget process.
You can find a chart with the Employee Commissioners’ Last-Best-Offer details here.
As a result of the arbitrator’s award, school districts will experience higher health care costs. Significant cost drivers to model for your district will include: expanding access to all tiers of coverage for support staff; first dollar employer OOP contributions of $2,100/$4,200 for teachers and administrators and $2,200/$4,400 for support staff; and expanding health benefits eligibility to employees who work 17.5 hours/week.
As many of you know, last week the Tax Commissioner released the annual December 1 letter, predicting the FY21 income and property yields, as well as the nonresidential tax rate. We learned this morning that the Tax Department did not include modeling for either LBO proposal as it formulated its projected education spending increases. While final yields and nonresidential rates are never known when boards adopt budgets to present to voters, the arbitrator’s decision is likely to substantially increase health care costs to districts, which adds to the uncertainty regarding the FY 21 income and property yields and nonresidential rate.
The VSBA would like to thank the five Employer Commissioners for their efforts in this difficult negotiation. Their last-best-offer balanced the needs of school employees with the imperative to slow the growth of health care costs for school districts to a more sustainable level.
We will be providing more analysis of the impacts of this decision in the weeks to come. Starting in January, we will also be offering workshops across the state on the impacts of this decision on local negotiations. To register for a workshop near you, please visit our website.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
Sincerely, Sue Ceglowski
Executive Director Vermont School Boards Association