School budgets fare well on Town Meeting Day

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(Host) Most school budgets fared very well on Town Meeting Day. Local voters rejected only 9 budgets – that’s the lowest number in many years.

School officials say the results show that towns are doing a good job restraining their education costs, and that there’s no need for the state to impose spending mandates.

VPRs Bob Kinzel has more:

(Kinzel) On Town Meeting Day in 2003, 42 school budgets were rejected – a situation that led to the passage of Act 68.

Since then the number has declined. 17 budgets were defeated last year and just 9 were turned down this year.

During the past five years, the average increase in school spending has also gone down.

In 2004 it was 6.6 % – this year it’s just over 4.3%.

Jeff Francis is the executive director of the Vermont Superintendents Association. He says local school boards have made a conscious effort to present voters with prudent budget requests:

(Francis) "When all is said and done however local school officials work to fulfill an obligation to both the taxpayers and to the children in the schools and I think the conversations that we’ve watched develop over the past four or five years have led to pretty conservative budgets in challenging economic times when we consider 4.36% I think that’s quite good."

Francis says the drop in the rate of school spending clearly demonstrates that the local budget process works well in controlling costs.

Governor Jim Douglas disagrees. He thinks many local school budgets should have been even lower. That’s why he’s defending a law that was passed last year that calls for two budget votes in towns that spend more than the rate of inflation plus one percent:

(Douglas) "We have 10% fewer kids than we had 10 years ago and yet the rate of school spending continues to rise we have more teachers more staff and more money coming out of the pockets of our taxpayers I really think Vermonters would benefit from the two vote process that was approved by the Legislature last year they could then decide the sustainability of the rate of increase of their local school budgets and it would be another tool for them to keep costs under control."

John Nelson is the executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association. He says the new law undermines local control of education:

(Nelson)"I don’t know if I’d say it’s patronizing on the part of people in Montpelier to be saying that there needs to be another hammer but it sounds a little bit that way to me. The system seems to be working and I think that most communities ought to be allowed to make these decisions without a lot of rhetoric in Montpelier about whether they’re doing the right thing or not."

Last week the House repealed the two vote law and replaced it with a plan to impose penalties on high spending towns. The plan faces an uncertain future because Senate President Peter Shumlin says he’s doesn’t support this new House approach.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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