David Sharpe

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Senate committee rejects Scott’s school budget mandate

MONTPELIER — The Senate Education committee has unanimously voted to oppose Gov. Phil Scott’s plan to mandate that all school budgets be leveled-funded next year — and that rejection has broad budget implications. That’s because the governor had hoped to deal with a budget gap in the state’s General Fund, in part, by transferring early education, higher education and teacher retirement programs over to the Education Fund. The roughly $50 million price tag for this transfer was to be offset by a plan to require that all local school budgets not grow at all next year. The governor’s proposal would also require all teachers to pay for 20 percent of their health care premiums.

Because many school boards are finalizing their budgets for next year, the governor proposed moving all local budget votes from Town Meeting Day in March to late May to give the boards more time to reduce their budgets. Senate Education chairman Phillip Baruth says the governor’s plan is unfair to local school boards. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers talk school choice and district mergers

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers and members of the public are calling for greater guarantees to preserve school choice. On Thursday, the House School Choice Caucus called for a clarification of Act 46 — the 2015 school district merger law — as it relates to towns that offer school choice. “In the long run, we’re seeing Act 46 create a lot of confusion and we’re here today to give a voice to that confusion,” said Rep. Vicki Strong, R-Irasburg. Unlike many caucuses, the House School Choice Caucus does not reflect a partisan divide based on political affiliation, but based on the size of the community, with nearly all of the caucus members hailing from small towns. “There’s a real need for leadership in directing our choice towns to keep this tradition and this very important issue with schools,” said Rep. Linda Martin, D-Wolcott. Continue Reading →

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Senate lawmakers address school district spending thresholds

MONTPELIER — Senate lawmakers are taking their own stab at revamping school district spending thresholds, setting up debate Friday on the House floor. With a voice vote, the Senate approved a proposal that would exempt school districts from spending thresholds if they are spending below the statewide per-pupil average for fiscal year 2017, and would repeal the thresholds altogether for 2018. The Senate proposal comes in response to action taken by House lawmakers Wednesday that would increase every district’s threshold by 0.9 percent and lower the penalty for exceeding the threshold from 1 dollar for every dollar over the threshold to 25 cents for every dollar over. The Senate proposal keeps the House plan to raise all thresholds by 0.9 percent, but raises the penalty to 40 cents for every dollar over the threshold, to make up for the districts who would be exempt from the thresholds because they are spending less than the statewide per-pupil average. The House proposal would bring in $1.8 million in penalty revenue; the Senate proposal would bring in $1.9 million. Continue Reading →

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House lawmakers approve change to school spending thresholds

MONTPELIER — House lawmakers have given their approval to changes in school spending thresholds that are expected to both give local school boards some breathing room and raise property tax rates. For more than a month, House lawmakers have wrestled with the school spending thresholds imposed by Act 46 of 2015, which calls for the creation of larger school districts to both save money and improve educational opportunities for students. The thresholds themselves, which vary from district to district, were intended as a two-year stop-gap effort to offer property tax relief while districts made plans to merge. However, a number of factors, such as the 2016 roll out of universal Pre-K education and a projected 7.9-percent increase in health insurance costs found many districts struggling to meet those thresholds. Thursday afternoon, House lawmakers approved a bill that would raise every school district’s threshold by 0.9 percent, and reduces the financial penalties a school district would face for exceeding its threshold by 75 percent. Continue Reading →

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Education officials seek additional staff

MONTPELIER — Education officials are calling on lawmakers to support the mandates they impose by adding additional staff to the Agency of Education and the State Board of Education. Members of the State Board of Education offered testimony before the House Education Committee on Monday calling for staff members to support the many educational initiatives imposed by the General Assembly, from school district mergers and universal Pre-K education to dual enrollment and personalized learning plans. “In our opinion, the Agency (of Education) is suffering with inadequate staff,” said Stephan Morse, chairman of the State Board of Education, who discussed the staff reductions the agency has faced during the past eight years. Since fiscal year 2008, the agency has lost 43 positions, falling from 213 to the current staffing level of 170. At the same time, 70 percent of agency staff are paid for with federal funds, which limits the scope of work they may perform, Morse said. Continue Reading →

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School spending thresholds up in the air

MONTPELIER — Senate lawmakers have taken one more step toward repealing school spending thresholds, while House lawmakers have taken a step backwards. For the past week, lawmakers on both sides of the General Assembly have explored parallel but differing approaches to dealing with spending thresholds and financial penalties associated with Act 46, the school district merger plan signed into law in May 2015. With a unanimous vote Tuesday, Senate lawmakers gave their preliminary approval to a bill to repeal the thresholds, which under Act 46, are in effect for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 and were intended as a means to provide immediate tax relief. “I think we have the opportunity to get the best of both worlds, where schools really scrutinized their budgets, and yet, we’re not going to penalize districts that don’t deserve to be penalized,” said Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden, who drafted the repeal bill in October. Meanwhile, a bill offered by the House Education Committee to retain the thresholds but raise them by 0.9 percent was recommitted to the committee, meaning it will take another affirmative vote among those committee members to return the bill to the floor. Continue Reading →

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Watch: Capitol Beat, Week 2 from the State House

Capitol Beat — From the Vermont Press Bureau and Orca Media

Vermont Press Bureau chief Neal Goswami and VPB reporter Josh O’Gorman sit down with House Education Committee Chairman Rep. David Sharpe, Sen. Brian Campion and Rep. Patti Komline to discuss potential changes to Act 46. Sen. David Zuckerman also joins the program to discuss the legalization of marijuana. Continue Reading →

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School spending thresholds unlikely to change in immediate future

MONTPELIER — The chairman of the House committee considering changes to school spending thresholds says it is “highly unlikely” any changes will happen before school boards need to finalize their budgets. On their first day back at the State House for the 2016 legislative Session, lawmakers discussed the possibility of changing a provision of Act 46 – the school district merger law – that seeks to cap state education spending at at 2 percent. The law creates spending increase thresholds for the next two years that vary from district to district – ranging from less than 1 percent to as much as 5 percent – depending upon how much that district spends per pupil compared with the state average. During the first Democratic Caucus of the session, House Education Committee Chairman David Sharpe, D-Bristol, discussed the feedback he has received regarding a policy that imposes financial penalties for districts that exceed the thresholds. “Unfortunately, what we’ve heard from a number of school districts is, ‘This isn’t going to reduce taxes in our community,’” Sharpe said. Continue Reading →

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School spending thresholds might undergo “tweaking”

MONTPELIER – Spending thresholds for school budgets might undergo some “tweaking,” but a repeal seems unlikely. Members of the House Education Committee on Wednesday expressed reservations in repealing a provision of the state’s school district merger law intended to curb spending, but were open to making changes to the threshold formula. The committee – which, during the last legislative session crafted Act 46, which seeks to merge school districts with the goals of reducing costs and expanding educational opportunities – took testimony from a host of education experts who spoke in opposition to a provision intended to cap education spending statewide at 2 percent for the next two years. “The provision was put in because of the widespread agreement that property taxes are burdensome to Vermonters,” said Committee Chairman David Sharpe, D-Bristol. “I’ve heard widespread concern that it won’t put downward pressure on property taxes because they (the districts) will be forced to spend above the threshold and will be forced to spend more in property taxes.”

The spending threshold formula looks at a district’s per-pupil spending and compares it to the current fiscal year’s statewide average of $14,096. Continue Reading →

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House gives final approval to school district consolidation bill

MONTPELIER — A bill that proposes to merge school districts and potentially cap education spending is on its way to the Senate. House lawmakers approved a bill Thursday that would create larger school districts — voluntarily or involuntarily — and cap future education spending if it increase more than it did when voters approved their school budgets in March. The spending cap component of the bill — created through an amendment from Rep. Sarah Buxton, D-Tunbridge, and approved by House lawmakers Wednesday — would trigger a 2-percent spending cap in 2017 and 2018 if the statewide average education spending increase in 2016 exceeds 2.95 percent, the average rate of growth for budgets approved by voters last month. As they did Wednesday, lawmakers offered a host of amendments to the bill. Rep. Christopher Pearson, P-Burlington, made a motion to reconsider the Buxton amendment. Continue Reading →

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