• Montpelier passes school budget by wide margin
    By Amy Ash Nixon
     | April 15,2014
    Stefan Hard / Staff Photo

    Members of Friends of Montpelier Schools hold signs Tuesday outside Montpelier City Hall as voters enter to cast their ballots on the school district budget revote.

    MONTPELIER — The city’s school budget, defeated in early March, had better luck with voters Tuesday and won approval in a vote of 914-565.

    The new school spending plan is $17,891,803, down from the $17,985,069 proposed on Town Meeting Day. The budget includes grant funding of $610,578 that does not come from local property taxes, said Superintendent Brian Ricca.

    School board Chairwoman Sue Aldrich was on hand Tuesday evening, waiting for the votes to be counted. She was thanked by a few constituents for her service as the clock struck 7.

    “I’m hoping for good news,” Aldrich said. The vote was announced a few minutes later, and Aldrich was instantly hugged by many people in the room.

    She called the superintendent to share the news, a big smile on her face: “Whoo-hoo! It passed, 914 to 565, so let the school community know.”

    “All right, good, we don’t have to cut any more,” she added.

    Chris Curtis, a parent of two boys, said, “I’m really pleased, and it wasn’t even close. The community has spoken really decisively.”

    City Clerk John Odum said the turnout was strong, drawing about 25 percent of nearly 6,300 people registered to vote in the city.

    People supporting passage of the budget were in front of City Hall all day, holding signs encouraging people to vote yes.

    Earlier, Jason Serota-Winston carried a sign reading “We Love Montpelier Schools,” with his kindergarten-age daughter, Miriam.

    “We are friends of Montpelier schools,” read a sticker on his jacket, of the type that were being handed to passers-by and people heading in to vote.

    Serota-Winston said he hoped no further cuts would be warranted.

    “I’m concerned that further cuts will cut through programs and have real impacts on the quality of education,” he said.

    Serota-Winston said most people did not seem to distinguish what was driving the tax increase — the state formula, not the local budget, he said.

    “I think people may not have realized that the local increase is less than 2 percent,” he said.

    He believes the Legislature needs to look at the property tax impacts from the state education funding formula. About three dozen school budgets failed this year.

    “I think the schools are really getting caught in the middle of something that is not their fault,” he said, adding he sympathizes with people concerned about the tax rate.

    Another parent, Alisa Dworsky, has a ninth-grader at the high school and a fourth-grader at Union Elementary, and she said her family moved to Montpelier just before her elder daughter was to start school for the city’s strong educational system. She said people have come out strong to show support for the schools, including after-school programs that working parents rely on.

    “I sympathize that the taxes have gone up a lot,” said Dworsky, “but that’s almost entirely a state issue.”

    Keeping the schools strong and healthy has everything to do with keeping Montpelier strong and attractive to young families, she said, noting the number of babies in strollers with spring finally making an appearance.

    “It’s the schools that are bringing people to this town,” she said, adding that if the link is jeopardized by going after schools, everything else will suffer and “we’ll lost that economic engine.”

    City voters turned down the initial spending plan by just 81 votes on March 4, and the school board has been working since to find the right formula. Public turnout at board meetings has been strong — and supportive — of the board not cutting too deeply. A committee of board and community members has been created to look at striking a balance between fiscal needs and educational needs.

    The new budget will mean a 17-cent increase in the property tax rate, down from the 18.7-cent increase projected under the Town Meeting Day proposal. Counting only the portion supported by the local tax, the new budget plan is 1.73 percent higher than the current year’s, Ricca has said. With the revised budget, he said, the increase in per-pupil spending for the coming year is 4.99 percent.

    Cuts in the board’s amended budget include: a move to lease instead of purchase a car for the driver’s education program at a savings of $12,500; the reduction of a new custodial position at Union Elementary School from full time to half time, saving $28,406; the cutting back of an English teaching job at the high school by 0.4 of a full-time job, saving $29,004; the elimination of girls lacrosse at the high school, saving $8,434; elimination of baseball at the middle school, saving $4,560; and the discontinuance of the National Honor Society at Montpelier High School, saving $2,288.

    A final move lowers the salary costs for the two assistant principals, one at the high school and one planned next year for the middle school, by $8,074 total.

    amy.nixon @timesargus.com

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