Nicole Mace

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Watch: Capital Beat with Jason Gibbs, Nicole Mace and Jeff Fannon

Vermont NEA Executive Director Jeff Fannon, Vermont School Boards Association Executive Director Nicole Mace and Jason Gibbs, Gov. Phil Scott’s chief of staff, join the program to discuss the governor’s proposal to have teachers negotiate their health care benefits with his administration. Capital Beat airs on Vermont PBS Plus Mondays at 8:30 p.m. Continue Reading →

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House convenes midnight session to address spending thresholds

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers burned the midnight oil early Saturday morning to approve a bill that softens the impact of school district spending thresholds. In the sort of move normally reserved for the final days of the legislative session in May, House members convened a special session shortly after midnight Saturday morning, after reaching a deadlock the day before on a bill that would raise school district spending thresholds and lower the tax penalties for exceeding them. It was more than one week ago when House lawmakers passed a bill that would raise every spending threshold — which vary from district to district — by 0.9 percent, and lower the tax penalty for exceeding them from 1 dollar for every dollar over the threshold to 25 cents for every dollar over. The thresholds themselves are a provision of Act 46, the school district merger bill passed by lawmakers in 2015, which seeks to create larger districts to both promote equity for students and contain costs. The thresholds were intended as a two-year stop-gap measure to give relief to property tax owners while the mergers take place. 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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Lawmakers heading in different directions on school spending thresholds

MONTPELIER — As House and Senate lawmakers continue to move in different directions in the hopes of enacting swift change regarding school district spending thresholds, revised threshold numbers create additional uncertainty. Lawmakers on either side of the General Assembly are no closer to reaching consensus on what changes, if any, should be made regarding spending thresholds that are estimated to result in more than 120 school districts facing property tax penalties. If anything, lawmakers on both sides are doubling down on their parallel, but differing, proposals. Earlier this week, House Education Committee members passed a bill that would raise each district’s threshold by 0.9 percent. On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee approved a bill that would repeal the thresholds altogether. 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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Commentary: School boards rise to the occasion

he overwhelming support for school district unification demonstrated by the voters of Essex, Essex Junction and Westford this week is reflective of the visionary leadership of the school boards in those communities. As the three communities stated in their unification plan presented to the voters, “[We are] guided by the commitment to enhance learning opportunities and equity for all students and to find efficiencies within our educational system that respect the financial investments of our communities and taxpayers. … We can deploy our resources to better support the journey of the student when we are able to plan for the entire journey, and allow the resources to be strategically aligned with our common mission and vision to prepare our students for the next stage of their lives in a rapidly changing world.”

This commitment to equity, increased student opportunity, and cost effectiveness is not unique to these school boards or communities – it is a shared commitment of the school boards of the State of Vermont. Over the past several years the Vermont School Boards Association (VSBA) has been engaged in a serious dialogue with our members regarding the best public policy approaches to address declining enrollment, rising costs, increasing numbers of students with significant learning needs, leadership turnover, and growing inequity in student opportunity. Continue Reading →

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