Education Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Orwell readies for budget vote

Dear Slate Valley Unified Union School District Community Members, 

On May 30, 2024, voters will be asked to go to the polls for the fourth time to approve the 2024-2025 school budget of $30,810,135. This budget is unchanged since the last budget vote.

We are maintaining the same spending figure because we believe that this is the absolute minimum amount of money needed to run our educational programs, keep our facilities from falling into further disrepair, and maintain a safe learning environment.

This budget will result in a per pupil education spending of $11,294.83. The state average as of 3/22/24 is $13,396. We are asking to spend $2101.17 less per equalized pupil to provide each student with the same education, an equal education. How can we do this by continuing to reduce our budget?

The 2024-2025 Homestead Tax Rates range from Fair Haven at $1.3299 (a 5.55% increase), to Benson at $1.5709 (an 18.48% increase). Tax rates for our other member towns are Castleton at $1.6305 (11.5% increase), Hubbardton at $1.6782 (12.35% increase), Orwell at $1.4868 (13.05% increase), and West Haven at $1.6277 (8.83% increase). With the exception of Benson, all these towns have an increase less than the average tax rate increase of 13.8% statewide, as cited by Governor Scott this week. For every $100,000 we decrease our budget, the tax rate above is reduced by less than one cent. A property valued at $100,000, therefore, would save the taxpayer $1.61. 

Do you really want us to eliminate our fifth and sixth grade sports programs at $73,250 and/or our bus monitors at $91,550 to save less than $2.00 per $100,000 of property value? You elected us, fellow property taxpayers, to develop and successfully pass a budget. This is the role of the school board, not the administration. Their job is to provide us with recommendations. We accepted some of their suggestions, but not others, because we believe the amount we requested is the least amount possible to provide the appropriate education for our students.

We have asked you to reach out to your legislatures to express your concerns with the high cost of Vermont education. These are the people who can make change! And I remind you that they did make changes in the form of Act 127, which increased our “weighted pupils” to produce an equalized tax rate that is close to past year figures. Hence, although our budget increased from $28,056,400 to $30,810,135, our equalized tax rate has decreased. We need to take advantage of the additional money we will be allotted by the state educational fund.

If you remain dissatisfied with our decisions, please, come to the table. Civic engagement is everyone’s responsibility, but this type of engagement cannot happen behind the scenes or screens. We need to have the hard conversations in person, at our school board meetings. SVUUSD will hold our fourth Informational Meeting on Wednesday, May 29, at 6:30 p.m., in the Fair Haven Union Middle High School Band Room. Voting will be conducted the following day, May 30. You can pick up an absentee ballot at your Town Clerk’s office. Please vote!

Pati Beaumont

SVUUSD Chairperson

Benson

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