Fasten your seatbelts


When the state secretary of education says that school boards should prepare for cuts, you know the next budget cycle is going to be a rough ride.

"Unless we bring staffing levels in line with our smaller numbers of students, we will be bearing very high education costs that are unlikely to contribute to better student outcomes," state Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe said in a memo to school superintendents and school boards earlier this month.

In a story about school funding, Holcombe said she was asking school boards "to do all they can to make sure we are making the best possible use of public dollars to ensure equitable access to high quality education for our children."

The gap in the state education fund for next year is estimated at nearly $50 million, thanks to the use of one-time money to reduce the tax rate in the current spending plan. And the likelihood that the so-called "leadership" in Congress will slash education and human services funding also looms large. They've got to keep those precious campaign contributions flowing in from the Koch brothers, after all.

In the meantime, our school boards will be forced to pick up the pieces — and make some difficult choices about people and their careers.

"We know that the majority of Vermonters have not experienced growth in their real incomes over the past decade, and thus have constrained capacity to support investments in education," Holcombe wrote. She's correct about that.

"Preserving quality means thinking hard about how we use our dollars, to ensure the investments we make are actually those that increase opportunities for children and those that ensure the greatest value out of every precious tax dollar we spend," she said. She's correct about that, too.

But unless there's a sea change in the way Vermont funds education, getting from here to there is going to exact a human cost. Absent a magical solution in mind that sustains education funding without a significant increase in taxes — an unlikely scenario in an election year — we're going to see teachers and paraprofessionals laid off in this state this spring.

We take no joy in that prediction. But it's a reality for which we need to prepare. And we wish our local school boards the best as they take on what is bound to be a difficult task.


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