Letter to the editor: ‘Establishment’ is calling the shots on Saunders

A few years ago, VTDigger published articles about negotiations between Vermont Teacher’s Union and the South Burlington school board. The chairman of the school board was being particularly steadfast in representing his constituents. So, the teachers union chose an alternative to negotiation. They set up a picket line in front of chairman’s law firm. It worked. Forced to choose between his representation of the South Burlington tax payers, and his obligation to clients and his partners, the chairman resigned from the school board. School boards are not paid positions. Most towns award a small honorary stipend to the members for the hundreds of hours these public servants volunteer to their communities. However, the union’s professional representatives are very well paid.

But this public servant didn’t quit on his constituents (or us) altogether. He sued the teachers’ union. His litigation ended at the Vermont Supreme Court. The “Kunin” court ruled that the teachers’ union had the right to picket the chairman’s firm. That ruling set a precedent, empowering the union to picket a public servant that might oppose them.

Last week, we saw a similar dynamic play out. Governor Scott nominated a person recommended by the Vermont State Board of Education to be Secretary of Education. But,Zoie Saunders is an outsider, not a member of Vermont’s education establishment. As such, she is seen as a threat to that entrenched establishment. The insiders, the teachers’ union and superintendents pulled out all stops organizing and lobbying the Senate to vote, for the first time in recent memory, against a governor’s choice of a secretary in his administration. One long-serving senator described the lobbying as the most intense he had ever seen. As should have been expected, all but one progressive/democrat senator sided with their “constituents”, the establishment insiders. They voted down the confirmation. But, like South Burlington’s school board chairman, Gov. Scott didn’t quit on his constituents and Vermont taxpayers. Phil Scott simply reaffirmed his interim appointment of Zoie Saunders as Secretary of Education. A situation to be continued…

Governor Scott will also veto the legislature’s “Yield” bill, which sets the average property tax rate at 13.8% and increases the School Excess Spending Threshold, allowing schools to increase their budgets by another 2%. The legislature’s veto session in June should be interesting. Will Vermonters participate by communicating with their legislators and the governor. Or might the power of teachers’ union define the outcome.

The same Common Level Appraisal values will still be there next year. The legislature voted to delay any tax reform so they can “study it” for another 18 months. And, as a final note for some of you, Income Sensitivity is limited to homestead value of $400,000. If this year’s CLA has pushed the market value of your home above that limit (for many it has) you’re obligated to the much higher Property Value tax rate on the excess.

L. Owen Farnsworth


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