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Budget cuts could have negative impact

It is budget time again and schools across Vermont are doing their best to balance the dual demands of Vermont taxpayers. We all want high-quality schools, but we also recognize the tough financial times we are currently living in.

Over the past few weeks, the Harwood Union School Board has been grappling with these issues and they will be voting on a final budget Wednesday, January 18. Under consideration for cuts have been teaching positions in English, history, business and computing, English Language Learners (ELL), Next Step, as well as tech support, administration, athletics and facilities.

The Harwood Education Association (HEA) feels very strongly that these proposed budget cuts would have significant negative impacts on the learning outcomes of our students and would not lead directly to any significant decreases to our local property taxes.

The school board's finance committee will meet at 4:30 p.m. on January 18 in the Harwood Union Library. The last chance for members of the Harwood community to raise their concerns before the final budget is voted on will be at the Harwood Union School Board Meeting at 6 p.m. on January 18.

 The community is encouraged to attend these meetings.

Please take a moment to consider the following:

1) These cuts will negatively affect the learning outcomes of our students.

  • Many of these proposed cuts would lead to increased class sizes, fewer electives, and a reduction in the programs and services we provide to students. Related impacts may include lower test scores on state, national and college admission tests. These test have financial impacts as well.

2) These cuts will not necessarily lead to a decrease in taxes for the average taxpayer in our district.

  • Property taxes are developed at the state level in Vermont and are tied to overall government spending. This means that your tax rate will be determined not only by increases or decreases at Harwood but also by the increases in the rest of the state. Therefore, even if Harwood makes major budget cuts, your taxes may still go up if other schools in the state decide to increase their budgets. At this point in time, this is exactly what seems to be happening. For example, schools in Chittenden County are putting forward budget increases of anywhere between 2 percent and 11 precent. How does it make any sense to decrease the quality of our school through deep cuts, while paying for budget increases and school improvements in other districts?

3) These cuts are voluntary and the Harwood Union school board is not obligated to make any budget cuts.

  • The school board has stated that it is attempting to respond to the Challenges for Change legislation that was designed to streamline government services and reduce costs. However, the law is entirely voluntary and the only consequences for a school board that does not meet its voluntary target is a letter from the commissioner of Education.
  • The legislation also requires that any of these voluntary cuts must also "enhance learning, promote creativity, increase the secondary school graduation rate, increase aspirations toward post-secondary education, increase student achievement, and increase the use of early intervention to prevent problems." If these improvements cannot be made, a district cannot make the spending cuts. As the law plainly states, "The Education Challenge is to reduce education spending by approximately 2 percent...while achieving the outcomes" listed above.

4) Our school has already made significant cuts over the past few years, both in programs and personnel.

  • Over the last few years we have already cut a full-time English teacher, a half-time business and computing teacher, a half-time industrial arts teacher, numerous support staff, a full-time administrator and other reductions in force.

5) The Harwood community has a long history of supporting the educational outcomes of our students.

This support has taken on many forms. Community businesses and organizations welcome our students as employees, interns, apprentices, shadow participants and through generous support of fund-raising efforts. Members of the community support all forms of extracurricular activities as fans, audience members and sponsors. Voters have provided generous support through the passage of annual school budgets. We are truly fortunate to live and work in a community that values a high-quality education for all students.

Submitted by the Harwood Education Association.

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