OPINION: Support the School Budget and Bond

by Jim Murphy – member of Montpelier-Roxbury School Board

We urge you to vote for the school budget and bond on Town Meeting Day.  Both are critical to providing an excellent and equitable education for our district’s growing student population. Strong public schools, which have needed upgrades to buildings and public spaces, benefit our city and our students. Excellent schools draw businesses and people to our community. Our school facilities are spaces for education and for the public, offering safe places for children to play, hosting arts and music events, and bringing the community together for basketball games and farmers’ markets.

The Budget: The school board has adopted a budget that affordably advances our district’s goals of equity and personalization.  Our district is recognized as one of the leading districts in the state in implementing personalized education. This year’s budget includes needed support for our popular and successful flexible pathways program, which allows high school students to pursue innovative, real-world learning experiences. The budget also invests in science and health education and focuses on resources to close the achievement gap and meet the needs of every child.

The budget takes a fiscally sound, long-term approach to maintaining our four school buildings.  It contains seed money for a long-needed capital plan for ongoing maintenance and upgrades. Addressing needs as they arise is the best way to save money and protect our investments.

The Bond: Given pressing capital improvement needs, the board unanimously supported a new bond that replaces a recently retired bond. It will support necessary infrastructure upgrades and important renovations at Montpelier High School and Union Elementary School. These projects will transform aging facilities into centerpieces of learning and public engagement. Bundling related projects together at each school saves money in oversight and management costs.

At the high school, the bond will allow for long-overdue upgrades in our main public areas: the auditorium, entranceway, gym, and locker rooms. The high school auditorium and gym are two of the largest public venues in Central Vermont, but both have significant shortcomings, including poor acoustics and uncomfortable, inaccessible seating in the auditorium; lack of rehearsal, restroom, and support space; and, frankly, unpleasant locker rooms. The bond will allow the district to tackle a major project that combines critical infrastructure needs—a new roof and air-handling system—with renovations that dramatically improve the auditorium, add classroom and learning space for the performing arts, and renovate outdated athletic facilities.

At the elementary school, the bond will similarly support urgently needed infrastructure investments. The bond will enable the district to update the electrical system, parts of which have not been replaced since the school was built almost 80 years ago. Also planned are renovations that will ensure our disabled students have proper access to the entire school and allow for safer and more convenient pick up and drop off of our youngest students.

Finally, the bond will fund the completion of the school playground project. The community has given unprecedented support to the Union playground renovation, but the project has struggled with unanticipated hurdles: the discovery of contaminated soils from a fire that destroyed a building that once sat on the site, and the expense of addressing stormwater runoff. The bond will allow the district to address these challenges and construct an interactive playground that gives students and the community a beautiful and safe outdoor play space.

In a year when state-funding decisions are resulting in major tax increases for many districts, the district will see only a modest impact from the budget and bond: a $43 increase for every $100,000 of property value in Montpelier. Please vote on these needed and timely investments for our students and community.

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