School Budgets Pass, Some Exceptions
03/06/02 12:00AM By John Dillon
(Host) Despite tight economic times and rising tax rates, town voters passed many school budgets around Vermont.
That wasn't the case in Burlington, where voters by a very narrow margin rejected the city's school budget increase. Montpelier voters also defeated the school budget.
Yet elsewhere around Vermont, budgets were mostly supported as school officials tried to hold down costs.
VPR's John Dillon reports.
(Dillon) About 200 school budgets came before the voters on town meeting day.
Jeffrey Francis is executive director of the Vermont Superintendents' Association. He says school officials have tried to keep costs under control. School budgets went up an average of 4% this year, as compared to 7% last year:
(Francis) "I think in general, school districts and school district leaders are very responsive to economic conditions. They always try to balance the costs of running a good system against what's affordable for taxpayers. It's a job that folks work very, very diligently at and I think that, or I hope that, in communities around the state there's a broad recognition of that effort and it translated into support for school budgets."
(Dillon) Two school budgets went down in the Northeast Kingdom. Voters in Glover and Canaan rejected the spending measures put forward by their school boards.
Montpelier voters also turned down a budget increase that could have led to a 22 cent hike in their tax rate.
In Windham County, Whitingham narrowly defeated its school budget.
But the budgets were supported in many other communities. In Waitsfield, voters supported the budget despite a 14% increase in the school tax rate. St. Johnsbury voters approved a school budget after amending it at town meeting.
The voting in some towns was complicated by a jump in tax rates that was mostly unrelated to budget increases. This was due to a provision in the Act 60 school funding law that encourages towns to keep their property appraisals close to fair market value. Francis of the Superintendents' Association explains.
(Francis) "If the state determines that your assessments are less than fair market value, it has the effect of causing the tax rate in your community to rise."
(Dillon) The Vermont League of Cities and Towns predicts that 58 towns around Vermont will see their school tax rates increase by 10 cents or more because of this Act 60 provision.
Speaking on VPR's Switchboard program Tuesday night, League Director Steve Jeffrey said voters at town meeting got a crash course in the intricacies of Act 60:
(Jeffrey) "There's strong support for education. It does appear that not only our supreme court but also our voters feel that education is a number one priority and should be getting the funding. People are finding out about Act 60 and how it works and impacts on their towns."
(Dillon) Vermont lawmakers are at home this week for the Town Meeting break. Jeffrey says one message legislators heard is that voters support their schools.
For Vermont Public Radio, I'm John Dillon.