10-22-13 – Remembering the Brigham Decision

by Stuart Lindbergh

I just received my Vermont School Boards Association “From the Boardroom” newsletter. I read the article by Carol Brigham, “Remember the Brigham Decision.” How can any of us paying taxes forget it? Last year I attended a PAI conference explaining education spending in Vermont. It was informative. Two presenters from PAI (Public Assets Institute), three superintendents, and a number of board members from the Rutland area were in attendance. Carol Brigham was also a participant. I explained to the group about the financial challenges our small school was facing in the face of declining enrollments. I spoke about how our board was cutting spending upon the insistence of the state, we were flat funding our budgets for three years running and cutting essential programs. I also explained how the supermajority in Montpelier, Governor Shumlin included, raided the education fund to the tune of $27 million dollars. In that year our statewide education property taxes in Cavendish went up 11.5 percent. In fact in the last three years our town’s property taxes have gone up 18 percent despite all the budget cuts.

On the issue of declining enrollment, Carol Brigham explained to the group that her school in Whiting was “marketing” her school to other Vermonters (and anyone else) so that more people would move to Whiting. She rather snidely stated to me that “your board should do a better job of marketing your school.” Wasn’t the Brigham Decision supposed to create funding equality and equal access to tax dollars for every Vermont School? Wasn’t this done in part so that Vermonters would not have to relocate to another town to find better opportunities for their children?

What puzzled me even more was that the Superintendent’s, the board members present, and the presenters all seemed to think that “marketing our local schools” was a grand idea. Am I missing something here? Vermont schools should compete with one another to boost enrollment? Isn’t this the polar opposite of the intent of the Brigham decision? Could it be that the confusing, contradictory and expensive thinking that the “expert” in Whiting and “experts” in Montpelier are forcing upon our public schools are also leading these same schools to convert to independent schools?

Stuart Lindberg

School Board Member

Cavendish, Vermont.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Daly October 25, 2013 at 4:59 pm

It is way past time for a new and truly equitable school funding system. Also, we need to stop expecting our schools to provide social services when we already pay the Department of Health and Human Services millions of dollars to do just that. I say refer the children and families to those that are trained to do the job and have the schools concentrate on teaching which is their job.

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Gary Richardson October 25, 2013 at 5:56 pm

to Stuart Lindberg,
Mr. Lindberg,
Nothing that was predicted for Act 60 has come true. I was the State Representative for Cavendish and Weathersfield during the Act 60 state sales job for this legislative wreck. One of our three State Senators announced that the Cavendish school tax would go down 27% when the program was fully enacted. Another telling blow to our school financing (and not discussed) was that the State would set our local education tax rates. Reading what you wrote is the Act 60 fall out. We got taken for a ride.
Gary Richardson
Perkinsville

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Gary Richardson October 25, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Someone asks for Moderation in my remarks? Today’s “moderation” is what got us into high taxes, low school performance in many school districts and, last year, the decrease of 18% in the number of students attending our schools, and 17% increase in education spending.
Gary Richardson
Perkinsville

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Stuart Lindberg October 29, 2013 at 12:03 am

Dear Gary,
Thank you for your insights and years of service in the legislature. It is hard to be “moderate” in our comments at the same time the ruling supermajority is fleecing us.
Stuart

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Robert Rich October 28, 2013 at 2:05 am

Another aspect of the Act 60 decision that does not work properly is the property tax credit system. The complexities of applying for school tax reduction under this system are so onerous that a high number of credits issued are incorrect. Often taxpayers are oblivious to the rules, especially as they relate to the “household income” concept and thus receive property tax credits that are too high or too low. As well, taxpayers who have ample assets but fall under the the $95,000 maximum often have the majority of their property tax paid by other taxpayers. And yet another inequity is that self-employed Vermonters are discriminated against under this law because they are not allowed to reduce their household income by contributions to qualified retirement plans the way employees are allowed to do. While some legislators have sincerely attempted to have this corrected, others refuse to consider it citing the loss to coffers. This logic implies that it is acceptable to create two classes of taxpayers.

With student rolls declining rapidly and significantly at the same time education costs continue to soar, and with a school tax refund system that is neither transparent nor comprehensible, it is time to scrap the current system in favor of one that addresses the realities of current demographics and treats all taxpayers fairly under the law.

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