Voters send message, schools respond with difficult choices

Back on March 3, voters in Bristol and Vergennes sent clear messages to their respective union high school school boards to reduce school spending further than the budgets proposed at Town Meeting. Boards trimmed a little, but in subsequent votes in April, voters again rejected the Mount Abraham Union High School, as well as the VUHS budget. After further reductions in both budgets, voters go to the polls next week for a decisive third vote.
This third vote will be decisive because if a budget fails, school boards have less wiggle room to respond. More cuts in programs and teachers likely would be the next step, and that’s on top of programs and teachers that have already been cut — and that could become a longer and more contentious community discussion with many voting against further reductions.
At Mount Abe, voters face an additional conundrum: With the recent announcement that Mount Abe Principal Gaynell Lyman is resigning, the school board would be substantially weakened in its effort to attract a new principal if its budget fails a third time.
Meanwhile, at VUHS, the board has done exceptional work in trimming that budget and reducing expenses in programs and teachers, even though costs are still significantly higher than the previous budget. That’s because faulty accounting from years prior has dumped higher expenses that are being made up in a single budget cycle. Voters have to get past the higher spending and accept that school spending in previous budgets had been held artifically low by inaccurate budgeting practices. The ship has to be righted, and this board has done solid work to present a budget that’s frugal as well as responsible.
Bristol residents will also vote on their Elementary School budget for a third time on June 16.
In each case, we encourage voters to study the budget proposals thoroughly and ask themselves two questions: 1) if your son or daughter were going to school at this time, would you vote for or against the budget; and 2) will your vote work to build the community (school and town) or weaken it? Voters can make an argument that right-sizing budgets works in the end to strengthen the community, but they have to be certain that is the case while also realizing that cutting too deep into school programs could undermine a school’s academic credentials, which in the long-term can make the community less attractive for families to move into or stay.
Consider the impact of your vote carefully, but do vote next Tuesday, June 9.
Angelo S. Lynn

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