Tag Archives: Vermont State Colleges

The Ghost of Jeb Spaulding Returns

Somewhere, Jeb Spaulding is saying “I told you so.”

The former chancellor of the Vermont State College System fell on his professional sword last spring by unveiling a plan to decimate VSCS in order to save it. In the ensuing uproar, he resigned.

Well, the new leadership has totted up the cost of saving the system — and it’s one hell of a price tag. On Tuesday, Spaulding’s successor Sophie Zdatny (pronounced just like it’s spelled) told the House Appropriations Committee that the state needs to pour another $203 million into the system over the next six fiscal years.

That’s on top of VSCS’ base appropriation of $30.5 million a year.

And that’s in addition to round after round of projected cost-cutting that would mean significant reductions at all VSCS campuses.

None of which would begin to address the system’s $150 million in deferred maintenance. Well, if VSCS sells or demolishes buildings in the downsizing process, that cost would go down somewhat.

All of this is necessary, Zdatny said, to return the system to fiscal sustainability. (Her presentation can be downloaded from the committee’s website.)

There’s one significant difference between Zdatny’s plan and Spaulding’s. The latter called for the closure of both Northern Vermont University campuses plus the Randolph campus of Vermont Technical College. Zdatny would keep all the system’s campuses open — but with a substantially reduced footprint at each location.

In order to follow through on the plan, the system would need $51 million on top of the $30.5 million base for fiscal year 2022. The additional need would decrease over time, from $51M in FY22 to $18M in FY27. After that, VSCS could maintain operations on the $30.5 million base.

How? By slashing $5 million a year off expenses in each of the next six years.

Seems as though Jeb had a point after all.

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The Luckiest Man in Vermont

Gov. Phil Scott issued his budget address today (YouTube video here). It was an astoundingly pain-free occasion, considering that we’re in the throes of a pandemic that’s been holding our economy hostage for almost a year now. In fact, rather than proposing painful cuts, Scott offered a generous scattering of funds for a wide variety of programs that, he said, will put Vermont on a sounder footing going forward.

How? Simple. The tsunami of federal Covid relief money. Scott’s budget includes $210 million in one-time money from the feds. As we heard from state economists Tom Kavet and Jeffrey Carr last week, federal money has prevented an economic collapse and even contributed to a boom in some sectors.

Throughout his political career, Phil Scott has benefited from little-known and/or underfunded Democratic opposition in races for state senate, lieutenant governor and governor. In his six races for statewide office, the closest result was the 2010 contest for lieutenant governor — seven percentage points over Steve Howard. He gets credit for being an appealing political figure, but he sure hasn’t had to fight very hard.

And now, once again, he’s the luckiest man in Vermont. You’d think a shattering pandemic would lead to massive cutbacks, but no. Scott could once again boast of a budget that wouldn’t increase taxes or “existing fees.” And according to Kavet and Carr, the state economy will continue to be buoyed by federal infusions for the next two fiscal years. Which will make it a lot easier to craft a pain-free state budget again next year and, if he runs for a fourth term, he may well be unbeatable once again.

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Fixing the State College System Will Be a Big Heavy Lift

Room rater! Best: Campion, okay background but great lighting. Honorable mention: Helen Mango; the pot lights give a delightful UFO vibe. Worst: Tie between Thomas “Total Eclipse Of The” Chittenden and Andrew “Blank Slate” Perchlik. C’mon, buy a poster or something!

Last year, the Vermont Legislature put off many unpleasant decisions by creating study committees. Well, one of them has come back to roost, and it brings a passel of bad news.

I’m talking about the Select Committee on the Future of Higher Education in Vermont, because the longer the name, the better the work product. The SCFHEV was tasked with studying the money-starved Vermont State College System and charting a path to sustainability. It issued a preliminary report in early December. That document was presented to the Senate Education Committee Tuesday afternoon. (The preliminary report can be downloaded from Senate Ed’s website. The panel’s final report will come out in April, with some changes likely and a lot more detail assured.)

The high points, if that’s what they are: The system needs dramatic restructuring to cut costs; even so it needs a much larger ongoing commitment from state government; and it also has to cut tuition rates, which are staggeringly high compared to public institutions in other states.

Well, that’s quite a lot.

The path ahead is long and arduous. It will involve multiple committees in the House and Senate, discussion of politically unpopular cutbacks, a search for funding at a time when demands for state money are everywhere, and scrounging for legislative time in what’s likely to be the most demanding session in years. Like I said, a big heavy lift.

Besides that, hey, things are going great.

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Jobs for the Boys (and Girls)

Patricia Moulton just became the latest high-ranking rat to leave the Good Ship Shumlin. The Commerce Secretary, under whose watch the EB-5 scandal went on undetected for years, has herself a soft landing spot as interim president of Vermont Technical College.

Moulton is one of those seemingly unmovable fixtures of Montpelier life — a species that moves effortlessly between government, private sector, and government-related nonprofits. She’s served in the last two administrations, Douglas and Shumlin; and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she turned up in a hypothetical Phil Scott cabinet.

What are her credentials to lead an educational institution? Pish tosh. Who needs relevant experience when you’re one of the cross-partisan In Crowd?

“… I can bring to that institution great knowledge about education and workforce for the state of Vermont,” Moulton said in an interview Thursday.

Well, that’s one way to spin it.

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