Message From Our Superintendent
Dear Parents, Families, Friends, and Community Members,
I'd like to address an important topic with you prior to Town Meeting, and the upcoming budget vote for the OSSD schools.
The topic is "Education Funding in Vermont."
As you may know, OSSD has been a leader for more than a decade in essentially level funding its education budget. And all those years of level funding have been great news – for every other city and town in Vermont. Now it’s time to rebuild – responsibly – what we as a school district have too long postponed.
For the past decade – even longer – the OSSD has shown tremendous fiscal responsibility in developing and passing (essentially) level-funded budgets. But if you understand how Education Funding works in Vermont, you quickly realize that every other Vermont town has reaped the benefits of our fiscal restraint, while OSSD facilities, and students, have lost a good deal of ground.
The time to address this imbalance is now. With our per-pupil spending cost below the state average and well below the state spending threshold, it’s time to shore up our academic programs and perform some much-needed repairs to our infrastructure.
To give you an idea of where we currently stand, the OSSD spends approximately $15,600 in education per equalized pupil (FY17), compared with a state average of $15,900 and a spending threshold of $18,300. What that means is that other districts in Vermont are spending that much (or in come cases more) on education, and OSSD taxpayers are funding it.
To better explain the negative impact that more than a decade of overly-constrained budgeting has had on our district, consider this: level-funding the non-salary portion of the budget is like compound interest in reverse. Every year costs such as salaries and insurance go up, which means the amount of money for items such as textbooks, technology, travel, professional development, advanced classes – essentially the very things we need to provide for our students – goes down. Over the past decade, reductions in these areas have had a negative impact on our services and programming. Further, this cycle is beginning to impact our ability to attract families to our community, which makes it difficult to maintain and grow our enrollments.
Districts that offer diverse programs and services draw families to their communities, and as enrollments go up, so too does the funding they receive from the state to support education. In other words, you have to build it before they will come. If you are constantly reducing, the only expectation is that enrollments will decrease which will further reduce funding – and this is a vicious cycle we need to break.
While there have been discussions each year in the legislature over changing how education is funded throughout the state, nothing has seriously developed to date. For us, this is a good thing, because any increase to our budget this year will be spread out over, and paid for by, taxpayers across the state, making the impact on our local tax rate relatively small. Given that the OSSD has more than done its part over the last decade to be fiscally responsible in terms of the State’s taxpayers, it would not be an abandonment of our civic duty to increase our budget this year after so many years of being fiscally constrained.
This year, we’ll be asking the communities we serve for the funds we need to begin restoring – and repairing – what’s been too long postponed. Specifically, we need to hire Math and Behavior Interventionists; we need to fund our public preschool; we need to begin our Therapeutic program; we need to increase our foreign language offerings at the high school; we need to upgrade much of our infrastructure (HVAC, plumbing, etc); and we need to increase safety at our schools. All of these things – and more – have been put on hold for too many years, leaving us compromised and vulnerable. If we want to reverse the downward trends we’ve been seeing in both enrollments and academic performance, AND attract new families to our communities, the time to take action is now.
We know how to create a better district that will support enhanced student outcomes while attracting new families. We hope you will support us in this important effort.
Layne Millington, Superintendent