School Sticks To Budget, Shuns Gov’s Level-Funding Dictum

by Carla Occaso

MONTPELIER — The Montpelier Board of School Commissioners is presenting voters with the budget approved at their Jan. 11 meeting. It eschews Gov. Phil Scott’s request for school budgets to be level-funded.

The bottom line is, last year’s approved school budget was around $18 million. This year’s proposed budget sits at roughly $20 million.

“We did not change the budget. We adopted the budget at our Jan. 18 meeting and approved the articles for the ballot,” said Michele Braun, chair of the school board recently by telephone to The Bridge. “I would say, the majority of the board would not support the governor’s level funding proposal because it would not be in the best interest of our students.”

In fact, during discussion at a Dec. 14 school board meeting, way before Scott called on school board to level fund budgets during his address Jan. 24., several commissioners said years of cost cutting has damaged programs and hindered student progress.

Braun said by phone to The Bridge that the board has asked Peter Sterling, school commissioner, to prepare a letter to the governor based on an analysis Sterling did of the Scott’s proposal. Main points include that Scott’s proposal unfairly rewards high spending districts and penalizes those districts which spend less in 2017.

Sterling put in a memo to the board, which Braun forwarded to The Bridge saying that “Many districts used one-time revenues to hold their fiscal year 2017 spending below Act 46 growth thresholds — this will likely create problems for these districts in 2018.” Further, most school boards had worked exhaustively to create their budgets for the year, had them approved and many have already sent them to the printers by the time Scott made his request. Sterling also made the point that disparities in local education grand lists is unfair because it varies widely and that no income sensitivity or homeowner rebate for low-income Vermonters. Plus, the call for teachers to pay 20 percent of health insurance premiums undermines collective bargaining rights and calls for reduction in spending at the same rate of student increase or decrease could force drastic fluctuations.

Homeowners: What Will You Have To Pay?

According to Montpelier Public Schools Superintendent Brian Ricca during a mid-December budget presentation, the Montpelier common level of appraisal has dropped two points. That happens when property sells for higher prices than it is valued. The effect on property owners is that taxes would go up $81 on a home valued at $100,000, $161 for a home valued at $200,000 and $242 for a home valued at $300,000.

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