The absurdity of Act 46 was on display in the Legislature this week. This is the law that has set the train of school consolidations rolling and put in place spending caps that have confronted school boards with the impossible job of setting budgets in the dark. Once the caps are in place, they promise to impose funding inequities on the schools that are contrary to the kind of fairness Vermonters have come to expect. The absurdity came when members of the Education Board came before the House Education Committee to say that in order to administer the new law, the Education Agency would require additional staffing. Staff has fallen from 213 to 170 since 2008 (the beginning of the Great Recession), and most of the remaining staff is paid for with federal funds. That means their duties are circumscribed, and they cannot be shunted over to handle the demands of Act 46.
Adding nine positions to the agency, as requested by members of the Education Board, would seem to be a necessity and an absurdity. It is a necessity because local school boards have been tasked with the complex process of figuring out how to reorganize themselves, or decide not to a demand for change that could end up punishing them if they refuse.
For the state to demand these changes and then refuse to hire the personnel needed to help carry them out is an affront to the hard-working school board members and school personnel who will have to bear the burden of Montpelier¹s schemes. Legislators who now beg off because they believe the state can¹t afford new staff members are guilty of creating the most onerous sort of state-imposed mandate. Then again, the creation of nine new positions in Montpelier is itself an absurdity. The process of school consolidation was promoted in part to create efficiencies and save money. Yet now the state Board of Education is suggesting spending money on a new cadre of personnel, not in the classrooms of Vermont, but in the offices of Montpelier. How much would nine new staffers cost? Maybe $800,000. Think of what $800,000 could do if it were actually used for education. How about nine music teachers or science specialists or French teachers?
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