More Than 90 Percent Of School Budgets Got Approval On Town Meeting Day

Mar 8, 2017

Voters in many communities gave their approval to their local school budget on Town Meeting Day. Roughly 200 budgets were up for consideration, and 91 percent were supported.

According to the latest tally, 183 school budgets were approved and 18 were defeated. There was also one tie, in West Rutland, where a recount will be held.

Nicole Mace, the executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association, notes that the 18 defeats are slightly higher than last year's count, but lower than the three years between 2013 and 2015. Last year, 11 budgets were defeated, and in 2014, voters rejected 37 budgets.

Mace says the number of budgets adopted this year is a sign that voters respect the work of their local school boards.

"Vermonters continue to support their public schools and continue to place a lot of faith in their locally elected school boards to develop budgets that respond to their needs of students and taxpayers," said Mace.

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Last week, Gov. Phil Scott urged voters to closely scrutinize their budgets and to consider voting against budgets that represented too much of an increase.

"It does not appear as though Vermonters responded to Governor Scott's call to solve our state budget problems by rejecting school budgets." — Nicole Mace, Vermont School Boards Association executive director

“Many go and feel their voice can't be heard, they don't understand what they are voting for, they have compassion and they want to take care of their kids, “ said Scott. “There's all kinds of reasons why we vote in that manner, but at this point in time I think Vermonters understand that enough is enough."

It appears that Scott took his own advice. He lives in Berlin, and he says he voted against the budget because it included too large an increase in per-pupil spending. Berlin was one of the 18 towns that voted down its school budget.

School Board Association director Mace says the statewide results indicate that most towns rejected the governor's plan to freeze all school budgets in order to provide additional funds for early education, higher education and child care programs.

“It does not appear as though Vermonters responded to Governor Scott's call to solve our state budget problems by rejecting school budgets,” said Mace.

"There's all kinds of reasons why we vote in that manner, but at this point in time I think Vermonters understand that enough is enough." — Gov. Phil Scott

On average, school budgets increased approximately 2 percent. Mace says it was very difficult for a number of school boards to meet this threshold because they had to factor in teacher compensation packages that had been put in place several years ago.

"To the extent that you are in a collective bargaining agreement that extends into a budget year, you have fairly limited flexibility in terms of costs that comprise roughly 80 percent of a budget," said Mace.

Mace notes that because of provisions in the Affordable Care Act, most teacher health care contracts are due to expire this year. She hopes that both teachers and local school boards can agree on a reasonable path going forward.

"I think it's important that boards engage in those negotiations with an eye towards a call for greater affordability and identify opportunities to realize savings where they can be found,” said Mace.

An analysis of school budgets considered on Town Meeting Day shows that 8 were passed with increases and one passed after being cut.

About a dozen communities will hold their school budget votes at a later date.