Education Op/Ed

Editorial: School budgets deserve OK, but process needs tweaking

ANGELO LYNN

Voters within the Mount Abe Union School District return to the ballot box next Tuesday, April 16, while Vergennes-area voters face their third vote on a school budget Tuesday, April 30. Otter Valley Unified Union voters, with the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, will also face a second budget vote on April 30.

All three budgets should garner voter support. 

As voters within MAUSD learned this past week, defeating such budgets have real consequences: The school district sent out 17 RIF (reduction in force) notices to teachers, many within the school’s art department in preparation for what administrators called “a worst-case scenario” if a new budget can’t be passed before July 1. While it’s unlikely that worst-case scenario will be a forced option, the board did propose a further cut in spending of about $1.36 million to what is now a $35,957,401 proposed budget.

In the Vergennes area, the ANWSD board was smart to heed taxpayers’ two previous defeats of the budget and cut an additional $257,737. That latest cut brings the total amount of cuts to just less than a million since the Town Meeting Day budget was shot down and has voters considering a $27.25 million plan. A budget of $28.25 million had been proposed for the March 5 vote. A second vote for $27.5 million failed on March 26.

Early voting in the ANWSD began this Wednesday and runs through election day, or voters can vote in person at their regular polling stations.

In the Brandon area, the Otter Valley Unified Union board proposed cuts of $268,751 off the defeated March 5 budget of $27,247,823. The cuts represent a 1% decrease in spending. Voters will cast their votes on this second budget plan on Tuesday, April 30. This round of cuts includes a late run afterschool bus for the Middle School, the Nordic ski team, the Dean of Students position at Neshobe Elementary School, and $164,000 in assessments from OVUU to RNESU for its share of district expenses such as special education, mental health professionals and transportation. Board members said they had proposed a streamlined budget on the first go-around and further cuts would have more severe impacts on student outcomes. The board did consider a 3% cut in spending but that caused cuts that were too severe, according to comments at this week’s meeting.

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While we do urge voters to vote yes on this round of school budgets, we also strongly encourage voters throughout the three school districts of Addison County, along with RNESU, to start the public discussion on these significant budgets far earlier in the year. It’s a disservice to taxpayers to have school boards recommend budgets of $28-$53 million and up in mid-January and give voters only a few weeks to study the information and cast an intelligent vote by Town Meeting Day with what is typically a single Informational meeting a week ahead of the vote.

In Franklin County, voters are encouraged to be a bigger part of the process. There, school boards develop their budgets more openly in mid-to-late summer, followed by regular public comment periods throughout the fall into winter. By mid-January, when budgets are warned, taxpayers are fully aware of what’s in the budget and the choices that were made to get there. 

That’s a superior budgeting process to what we see here. 

Angelo Lynn

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