Tuesday marked a return to normalcy when voters from at least 16 school districts rejected proposed budgets.
There are 270 school districts in the state, of which 247 were expected to decide on their budgets by the time the polls closed Tuesday night. With results still pending from three districts — Halifax, Readsboro and Searsburg — 228 districts passed their budgets while 16 did not.
Those districts are Barre City, Orange, Blue Mountain Union School, Colchester, Williston, Alburgh, Bennington, Hancock, Holland, Leicester, Lunenburg, Middletown Springs, Millers Run Unified School District 37, Milton, Rutland Town, and Springfield.
“The reasons for the defeats are going to be varied and specific,” said Stephen Dale, executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association.
“On Town Meeting Day, people are looking at budgets,” he said. “Tax rates are something different. Although there is a relationship between budgets and tax bills, it’s not a one-to-one relationship, because of the way we fund education in the state.”
Higher taxes drove the defeat of the school budget in Barre, along with the municipal budget and an article funding a school resource officer, according to Lucas Herring, chairman of the School Board of the Barre City Elementary and Middle School.
“In Barre, it was pretty consistent across the board, from municipal to city budgets, that the budgets were defeated,” Herring said.
Voters rejected a proposed school budget of $13,114,947, a 12-percent increase over the current budget. Nine percent of the increase comes from rising special education expenses.
Herring hoped to avoid cutting the school resource officer, a $62,000 separate ballot item rejected by voters.
“It’s one of those items we want to save,” Herring said. “It’s a very valuable position, and during the summer when the kids are out and about, it’s good to have an officer with that kind of rapport with the kids.”
Frustration with taxes appear to have driven the 22-vote defeat of the Rutland Town School budget, said School Board Chairwoman Lynette Gallipo.
“Judging from the town meeting Monday night, there are still people voting against Act 60 and Act 68,” she said of voters who rejected a proposed budget of $8,127,036, an increase of $454,120, or 5.9 percent, over the current budget of $7,672,916.
“While I’m sure the receiving towns are watching their budgets, I’m sure they’re not showing the same restraint we are,” Gallipo said. “We in Rutland Town are tired of seeing our taxes go to other towns.”
The 16 confirmed rejected budgets represent a return to normal of sorts. Between 2005 and 2010, voters rejected an average of 17 budgets every year. During the past two years, when school budgets generally remained flat, voters passed the budgets with greater frequency. Voters rejected seven budgets last year and only three in 2011.
This year was unusual in terms of the number of districts that were compelled by statute to break up their proposed budgets into two parts, with voters free to approve or reject either or both budget requests. This is the fifth — and if the legislature doesn’t act, the final — year of the law, which is triggered when district spending exceeds thresholds of inflation and per-pupil spending.
In the prior four years combined, districts went to a two-budget vote 10 times. This year voters faced the two votes in 20 districts, with 15 approving both, one defeating both (Blue Mountain Union School) and four others approving the first and rejecting the second: Berlin, Charlotte, Concord and Underhill Elementary School.
“What we saw were a number of schools who had received federal support the last two years and this year the funds were not there and the districts had to make up the difference,” said Bill Talbott, deputy commissioner and chief financial officer of the state Agency of Education.
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