As budget season kicks off, Gov. Phil Scott sent a letter to Vermont education leaders last week detailing his call for school districts to level-fund per pupil spending in fiscal year 2019.

“At the end of the day, I will not support any legislation that authorizes state spending to grow faster than the rate of growth in the economy and wages,” Scott wrote in his four-page letter.

Over the past six years, he estimated average state economic and wage growth to be 2.5 percent.

Across the state, boundaries for per pupil spending must be developed, he wrote. Last year, Milton voters approved a $29.2 million budget, which increased per pupil spending by 3.65 percent, or $14,585.

According to Scott, schools with decreasing student population should do “everything possible” to lower per pupil spending, such as consolidating grades and schools. Districts with increasing student counts, like Milton, should not allow per pupil spending “to increase more than the growth calculation rate I will apply to state spending,” Scott wrote. 

The district is waiting to hear more on that rate, Donna said.

At a Nov. 13 school board meeting, Bradshaw shared the district’s most recent enrollment data. As of Sept. 5, 2016, the district totaled 1,663 students. On November 1 of this year, 1,740 people attended Milton schools, a 77-pupil increase.

Scott said with courage and resolve, districts won’t have to cut programming for kids and can instead increase academic opportunities.

Milton School Board members and superintendent Ann Bradshaw have discussed the matter twice in open session since the Nov. 15 letter was distributed.

Board chairwoman Lori Donna said trustees want more specifics before making any official comments on the matter.

Scott is planning an education
summit in mid-December with legislators plus school trustees, superintendents, principals, union leaders, special educators and members of the pre-kindergarten community, plus state colleges and universities. 

Scott’s staff is penning proposals to share at the summit, he wrote, saying his administration is prepared to develop tools to support his goal.

Donna stressed she and other officials need to know the summit date soon so they can plan accordingly during an already busy December.

In Milton, the board has slowly begun budget talks. Bradshaw gave an update on November 13, saying a “skeleton” of the FY9 budget is complete. She and business manager Don Johnson looked at special education staffing and costs, a full breakdown of staff and reporting structures and a three-year equipment plan.

According to Vt. Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe, Vermont’s student population has shrunk 20 percent in the past 20 years. Now, the average student-to-teacher ratio is 4:1, she wrote.

“If we do not change our playbook, we could end up employing one adult for every three children,” she wrote in a memorandum to school board members, superintendents and business managers in early October.

With possible changes nearing, Milton teacher and union president Joanne Davidman said officials must also acknowledge changing student needs. The student she teaches today, she said, is far different from when she started teaching many years ago.

Until the district receives more information from Scott’s camp, it’s unclear what the governor’s call means for Milton schools, officials said.