Wilmington and Whitingham homestead property taxpayers are facing significant increases due to a number of factors out of their control. Wilmington voters will be deciding on a budget that will increase their school tax rate by 22 cents, and in Whitingham the rate could climb by 41 cents.
This sharp increase in tax rates comes from a number of factors, including changes in how the state calculates payments for declining enrollments, state-imposed penalties for increases in per-pupil spending, revenue drops, and state calculations of the common level of appraisal. There are other drivers as well, ones which can’t easily be explained by anyone without detailed understanding of the complex formulas used by Vermont to calculate school payments and costs.
Despite the inability to completely explain where the budget was cut and where costs were shifted, the bottom line remains the same: voters in those two towns are looking at some pretty significant increases in their homestead school tax payments.
The selectboard in Whitingham is clearly frustrated by this and is encouraging voters to defeat the budget proposal. That is not because of anything the school board has done, but to send a message to lawmakers that the current system of funding schools doesn’t work.
We couldn’t agree more. It is broken, and we’ve been saying that for sometime.
Let’s be perfectly clear, this is not because of a bad budget created by the Twin Valley School Board and administration. A no vote should not be cast in anger at local officials. They’re good people trying to work through a difficult situation.
Voting no is one way to send a message to legislators that the current funding mechanisms don’t work and penalizes districts that have done things in the right way, or at least in the way the state wants them to. In Twin Valley’s case, two school districts have merged, they’ve closed a school building, they’ve consolidated services, and done just about everything the state is requiring other school districts around Vermont to do as part of Act 46.
That’s a big part of why so many are frustrated about this situation. It feels like the state is extracting another pound of flesh, just because the laws say it can.
Whitingham’s selectboard is taking action to fight the inequalities inherent in the current funding formula. Voting down the budget is one way to send a message, and has historically proven to be a good one. Legislators across the state tend to pay attention when school budgets are voted down.
There are a number of reasons why legislators should take a long, hard look at the education funding formulas. As more and more school districts merge under Act 46, there will be more situations similar to what the Twin Valley district is facing. Many of those situations may end up in places like Addison and Chittenden counties, where merged districts have become the poster children for successful Act 46 mergers. Despite the best efforts of many, two things have remained constant in Vermont over the past 20 years: student population has declined and school costs have risen. There’s no reason to think those trends won’t continue for the foreseeable future, and every reason for legislators and state officials to revise the funding formulas and stop penalizing school districts, and in essence taxpayers, for things out of their control.
Wilmington voters should support their Whitingham neighbors in their efforts. Both towns are bound together by their joint school district, and both are impacted by this latest turn of events. The budget can be approved at a later vote, but a Town Meeting school budget defeat is one of the surest ways to get legislators’ attention.