By JOHN FLOWERS
MONTPELIER — Rep. Betty Nuovo, D-Middlebury, has filed legislation to repeal Act 82, a law passed two years ago that requires public school budgets that exceed a prescribed threshold be presented to voters in two parts.
This is Nuovo’s second attempt at repealing Act 82, a measure that will take effect for the first time this March when Vermonters cast votes on their local school budgets.
Act 82 requires local school boards who propose budgetary increases of more than the inflation rate plus 1 percent to have their spending plans voted in two referenda — one reflecting inflation pus 1 percent, and another for the amount beyond that.
The new law provided a staunch test for several Addison County school districts that found themselves bumping up against the Act 82 threshold. It’s a law that has developed its share of detractors, including the Vermont-NEA, the teachers’ union. Fans of Act 82 have touted the law as a way of forcing school officials to craft more frugal budgets. Opponents have said Act 82 adds confusion to the education budgeting process and undermines school boards’ efforts to prepare responsible spending plans that are increasingly being influenced by fixed costs — such as fuel, health insurance premiums and transportation.
“I didn’t believe in it from the start,” Nuovo said of Act 82. She voted against the measure back in 2007. She said the law was the product of an agreement between Gov. James Douglas and House and Senate leaders. It’s a measure she said was sprung on lawmakers in the twilight of the 2007 legislative session without much explanation and debate.
“It was too late to study it,” Nuovo recalled. “None of our educators had a chance to look at it and see how it worked.”
Nuovo was particularly upset by what she believed Act 82 was saying to school officials.
“It was saying, ‘School boards don’t know what they are doing, so we will tell them,’” Nuovo said. “I didn’t like that.”
She mounted an effort to repeal act 82 last year. That effort succeeded in the House but failed to pass in the Senate.
Nuovo decided to try again this year. Her repeal bill, H.37, has 58 co-sponsors, including many Addison County House members.
“I did that in three days,” Nuovo said of the signature gathering.
Members of the UD-3 board have been candid in their opposition to Act 82. Lee Sease, superintendent of the Addison Central Supervisory Union, said the Act 60 and Act 68 school funding laws have already provided mechanisms through which districts have not only equalized their school spending, but have had to contain that spending or pay a financial penalty.
Act 82, Sease said, has emerged as a confusing law that “seems to have no purpose other than to artificially try to control education spending.”
Nuovo said H.37 is currently in the House Education Committee.