first_imgby Alicia Freese February 28, 2013 Three House committees ‘ Appropriations, Ways and Means, and Education ‘ met Thursday to try to drill down into what is driving up school spending and how they can ‘ bend the cost curve.’But two superintendents, testifying about their school budgets, they warned lawmakers that they wouldn’ t find ‘ low-hanging fruit’ when looking for cost-cutting measures.For the most part, lawmakers threw out surprisingly concise three-or four-word solutions to the vexing issue of rising school costs ‘ and property taxes. The most common suggestion was to negotiate teacher contracts at a statewide level instead of at the local school board level.Townshend Elementary SchoolMultiple lawmakers also expressed a hankering to do away with so-called small schools support grants, which provide assistance for low-enrollment schools where the two-year average enrollment is less than 100 or where class size averages are 20 or fewer.Many of the ideas tossed around at the session were time-worn concepts that have consistently met with a frosty reception in local school districts, such as the calls for consolidation of supervisory unions and administrative costs, and recalibrating student-teacher ratios. There was also one suggestion to revamp the state’ s complex education finance system.Earlier in the afternoon, lawmakers had heard from the superintendents and the finance directors from two supervisory unions, Lamoille South and Rutland Northeast, who walked them through their budgets and discouraged them from pursuing school consolidation or doing away with grants that assist small schools with very few students.Rep. Peter Peltz, D-Woodbury, asked John Castle, the superintendent of Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, if the district had contemplated consolidation when Act. 153, which provided consolidation incentives, was passed by the Legislature in 2009.‘ We had about a ten-minute conversation and we were done,’ Castle replied.Elmore, located in Lamoille South, runs a 20-student, one-room school for grades 1-3. It receives a small-school grant of about $40,000. At one point Rep. Martha Heath, chair of the Appropriations Committee, asked the superintendent, Tracy Wrend, which would be more cost-effective: keeping the school open or paying tuition for students to attend school at another location.Wrend said it was cheaper to keep the school open.Heath persisted, asking, ‘ If your small-school grant was taken, would it still be financially better?’‘ Yes,’ Wrend responded.John Pike, the finance director at Lamoille South, said increases in tuition rates to send students to adjacent schools and growing special education costs have fueled spending in the region, and declining enrollment is exacerbating the problem.Brenda Fleming, the business manager for Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, said salaries and benefits increases ‘ and in particular the spike in health care premiums (now expected to rise 10.5 percent) ‘ along with growing special education costs are driving their spending.Both Castle and Wrend cautioned against legislation that will increase their costs. Castle pointed to Gov. Shumlin’ s proposal to make algebra and geometry mandatory for ninth and tenth graders; Wrend said agency fee bills, childcare unionization and pre-K bills will raise costs in her region.last_img read more