by Sen. Joe Benning
As the first day of session approaches a certain amount of excitement arises as we legislators anticipate seeing friends and colleagues again after the summer and fall break. That excitement peaks during the Governor’s state-of- the- state and budget speeches. Somewhere during his budget presentation, as I gazed out over the packed House chamber from my Senate seat behind the podium, it dawned on me that we once again have a multi-million dollar obstacle in front of us.
How did we get into the position of annually struggling to find ways to plug multi-million dollar budget gaps? For too long now Vermont has been too eager to accept federal grant money and use it the wrong way. Instead of devoting such funds to infrastructure (roads, bridges, building maintenance, etc.) we have developed a habit of using those funds to start new programs. That, of course, means new people on the government payroll and, simultaneously, others who become dependent on those services. While the initial start-up may address a specific perceived need or simply someone’s “good idea,” the fact is we all know those federal funds will eventually disappear. The end result is a constantly rising burden on state and local taxpayers.
A classic example of that was reported in a January 11th Caledonian Record article featuring a discussion between Caledonia North Supervisory Union management and school board members from the union’s seven towns. The article notes the state requires supervisory unions to monitor curriculum coordination. In response, CNSU created a $78,280 (plus benefits) managerial position called a “curriculum coordinator” using federal money. This person does not teach children. Their primary function is to coordinate the delivery of curriculum for teacher in-service training. The federal government, itself trillions in debt, has now cut funding through sequestration. Rather than absorbing the coordinator’s function into other existing management, CNSU turned to the seven towns within its supervisory union to shift the annual cost of this position to the local taxpayers. The end result is a 20 percent increase in the CNSU budget and, correspondingly, a forced increase in the school budgets in each of the towns that make up its supervisory union.
Now here’s where I really shake my head (as if the above were not enough!). School board members objected to that cost shift. In response, CNSU threatened to eliminate two classroom teachers so they could keep this managerial position. Think about that for a second: sacrifice two of the people who actually teach our children in order to salvage a managerial position!
Will the state step in to pick up the cost of that position created with federal funds? No. Will taxpayers in those seven towns be angry about an increase in their school budgets? Yes. But if their anger doesn’t rise above their desire to “support the children,” then nobody should wonder about why our school costs continue to rise. We need to start thinking seriously about how we use federal money.