The following is the content of a letter to the editor of the Colchester Sun from Colchester School Board Vice Chair Dick Pecor.
Since I was quoted in a recent article in the Colchester Sun (the January 31 “School Board: Budget is more than numbers”) and again in a February 14 Letter to the Editor (“Can’t escape the budget numbers”), I thought I should provide some context to those remarks attributed to me.
The quote “We are way, way, way too focused on numbers. But we are not getting across the human side of what goes on in the school district day after day” was cherry-picked from a much wider discussion of revenue and expenses for FY 2014. My point was that it becomes a binary process at the ballot box to either vote yea or nay on our proposed budget and that the quality and complexity of the myriad services the district provides gets lost in that instant. Since we seldom have an audience at our board meetings, we know that most taxpayers may not understand that, as a matter of law, we must provide not only education but all of the social, family, learning, emotional, health, and nutritional supports for all our students regardless of the breadth and intensity of their individual needs.
Education is an expensive business. It is intensely personal and requires much talent to run effectively. Vermont and New England have traditionally spent more per student than other areas of the country and by all measures have the best educated and healthiest citizens in the nation. This is not by chance. The Colchester School District’s peer group is the seven districts around us in Chittenden County, and we place fifth in per-pupil spending, just $110 above No. 6, Milton. We do watch the numbers closely. At the end of the day, though, we ask, “What is the impact on student outcomes?” of every decision we make.
Over the past four years, the board has weighed each line item on our budget with this test. Over those last four budgets, our spending increase has averaged 1.63 percent per year, and yet our students are constantly at the head of the class when compared to our peer districts.
As for the second ballot article we provided, described in a Letter to the Editor as “deceptive,” since it ostensibly included the term “reduced,” it was not and it did not. The article warned was the same boilerplate we always use that simply states the proposed budget number. The writer may have confused our article with another. In an effort to increase transparency and trust, ALL the documents we use on the board in budget development are publicly available on the district’s website at www.csdvt.org.
One of the issues the board struggles with is the extremely complex way that Vermont gets its education funding and then how it doles those monies out to individual districts and students. What sets Vermont apart from other states is that the property tax, where a large percentage of the education funds come from, is progressive or “income sensitive.”
Homesteads that have adjusted earnings of less than $90,000 per year pay on their income rather than their homestead assessed value. Citizens on fixed incomes, social security, and pensions have their education tax increase “capped” at a percentage of their income. The proposed cap for FY 2014 will be set at 2.68 percent of income, which, for the average Colchester homestead income of $60,000, will equate to an education tax of $1,608. Last year (FY 2013), the rate was 2.49 percent, so the same homestead’s ed tax was $1,494—a year-to-year increase of $114. Two-thirds or 66 percent of Colchester homesteads pay their education tax based on their income, not their property values. Seventy percent of Vermonters pay on their income, not on their property values.
I appreciate the forum that the Colchester Sun provides to convey the facts about how the board runs your Colchester school system. I and the board hope that you will support our proposed budget and that you will participate by attending our board meetings, Town Meeting Night on March 4, and that you will exercise your rights on Election Day, March 5.
Colchester School Board vice chairman
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