On July 10, 2024
Opinions

Best use of ed funding?

Dear Editor,

There has been no shortage of notable quotes from Montpelier recently, and not many of them charitable. Reading that our governor referred to lawmakers as “a bit arrogant” in overriding his vetoes at a press conference brings to mind several historical quotes and sayings. What immediately came to mind were “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” as well as “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” but perhaps most appropriate would be the one about the kettle calling the pot black.

Governor Scott represented the epitome of arrogance in appointing an interim Vermont Secretary of Education only minutes after the Vermont Senate rejected the appointment by a considerable margin. 

I heard the governor say that lawmakers were not listening to constituents in overriding his veto of the “Yield Bill”… without offering a viable alternative to support our public schools in providing a quality education to all Vermont children, regardless of their needs. Yet he flouted the intent of the Vermont Constitution — that part about “…with the advice and consent of the Senate…” the informed opinions of 19 Vermont senators, and the hundreds, if not thousands of Vermonters who called or wrote to them protesting the Sec Ed appointment. And let’s be clear — this is not, and never was, an attack on her character — the fact is she is not qualified to serve in the position, period. Her very brief experience with public schools was to oversee closing them, and prior to that, she worked for an organization supporting for-profit charter schools. It’s not much of a stretch to think that the best interests of children can become subservient to the bottom line in such organizations, but it is a stretch to classify them as public schools, at least in Vermont’s definition.

In looking into how the State Board of Education (SBE) came to have such an unqualified person amongst the candidates for the governor to choose from, I realized that Phil Scott has appointed every sitting member on the SBE, as well as the former chair, who now lobbies for private schools. One of the current Scott appointees is the executive director of the Rutland Chamber and Economic Development — a champion of the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district now reworking the Killington Access Road — including new water, sewer and electric lines on Vermont property owners’ dime, so that a developer might be enticed to build a multi-million dollar ski village. Tens of millions of dollars robbed from the Education Fund, with payback (maybe) coming decades down the road.

So that’s two, or perhaps three strikes — not against Phil Scott, but rather against Vermont property taxpayers. Add to this the fact that Vermont has not supported capital construction — whether that be standard maintenance or needed upgrades — with state funding since 2008, so our school buildings have fallen into disrepair while school boards have strived to keep tax increases in check, hoping for assistance from above.

Phil Scott’s only visible education policy seems to be that it costs too much, but he has incrementally been supporting shifting Vermont to privatization. His efforts might be described as covert, but we can now drop the “c” from that word…the mask has come off.

I submit that Vermonters would be better informed, and better served, by having a hard, very public look at where property tax dollars intended by law to support our public schools are being diverted to:

Number one: Private schools, that don’t have to abide by the same standards as public schools — like accepting, and providing appropriate services for, all students; and showing us how our tax dollars are spent. And that now includes religious schools, some of which blatantly flout anti-discrimination laws in hiring staff.

Closely followed by: TIFs, which seems like a swell idea at first blush, but I’ve yet to hear how paving roads or building parking garages are appropriate uses of the Education Fund.

Then there is the property value adjustment system — the CLA — that forces longtime Vermonters to subsidize taxes for their new neighbors who have paid exorbitant prices for “a place in Vermont.” While technically this doesn’t increase total statewide property taxes, it certainly results in shifts to who is paying for them, not in an equitable way.

Finally, on the subject of “not listening to constituents,” or being “a bit arrogant”: Several years ago Phil Scott orchestrated holding back some $40-$50 million (depending upon whose numbers you use) from the Ed Fund that voters had approved. That voters had approved to support our schools. This reminds me of another adage: “When you point your finger, there are three fingers pointing back at you.” 

Please stop pointing your finger at our public schools, Governor Scott, and work to get them back onto solid ground.

Ken Fredette, Wallingford

Editor’s note: Fredette served on the Wallingford School Board for 20 years. He also is  a past president of the Vermont School Boards Association (VSBA) and is on the steering committee of the Friends of Vermont Public Education.

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