- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 25, 2018

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Gov. Phil Scott’s administration has proposed a new tax penalty against Vermont public schools with high staff levels.

Tuesday’s proposal released to the House Education Committee sets a target ratio of one staff person for every 5.5 students. As a penalty, the state would raise property taxes in districts that fail to meet the ratio.

Administration officials said if all districts complied with the new ratio, it would reduce education costs by $45 million in fiscal year 2020. The ratio does not count special education teachers, maintenance and security workers and bus drivers.

“While Vermont’s student population is declining, the staffing numbers do not seem to be declining in step,” Brad James, education finance manager for the Vermont Agency of Education, said in written testimony.

With property tax rates set to go up 5.5 cents next year, the state needs to act quickly, Vermont Finance Commissioner Adam Greshin told lawmakers.

“We need to have a sense of urgency,” he said.

Democratic state Rep. Kate Webb, of Shelburne, opposes the idea, saying the administration should instead investigate why some schools have a low or high student-to-staff ratio.

“It’s like saying just give everybody antibiotics without actually finding out there’s an invasion of something, some disease,” she said. “If you dealt with that, you might not need so much penicillin.”

Democratic state Rep. David Sharpe, who chairs the Education Committee, said he will keep an open mind but said there are too many questions for the proposal to move forward this year.

He said some private schools boast of low ratios of staff per student.

“Are we putting our public schools at a disadvantage? Are we handicapping them more than we should, or not?” he said.

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