In his budget address, Gov. Scott called on school boards to fund their 2018 school budgets at 2017 levels to stabilize tax rates. He also proposed postponing budget votes until May 23 to give boards time to prepare the level-funded budgets.
Board members were uncertain whether the governor’s level-funding plan included additional changes that would control or stabilize tax rates in Whitingham and Wilmington, or whether they should move forward with their proposed 2018 budget, which is $750,000 lower than their 2017 budget.
“It kind of leaves us hanging,” said board member Kathy Larsen. “If the budget doesn’t pass (in May), we’ve got to work really fast to get another budget out there before the end of June.”
“We’ll probably want to have some parallel efforts in place, if (budget approval) doesn’t look promising,” suggested board member Adam Grinold.
“We may be going to the public several times this spring,” said board member John Doty.
“If we’re being asked to delay the vote by the governor, then I assume that will be communicated in a more official manner than just a budget proposal,” said Grinold. “Should we even proceed with our budget informational meetings?”
Board members were unsure whether to proceed with a vote on their proposed budget, continue to seek additional cuts, or to respond to the governor’s request for a level-funded 2018 budget without guidance on whether there would be additional measures to stabilize the school tax rate at 2017 levels.
“It seems like they have to realize there’s a flaw in this,” said Twin Valley School Board Chair Seth Boyd.
Board members eventually decided not to pursue a budget that included additional cuts which had been discussed in executive session at a work session a week earlier. “I wouldn’t vote for what was proposed to get out of the penalty box,” said board member Therese Lounsbury. “That’s not a budget I would put my name to. And say it passes but the governor says ‘Here are some new rules.’ Does that give us the opportunity to look at it again?”
Larsen suggested moving forward with their proposed budget, to be voted on by Australian ballot on Town Meeting day as usual, with the contingency that, if details of the governor’s budget proposal prove to be advantageous to the two towns, the vote could be postponed until May 23 and a level-funded budget could be substituted. Board members agreed.
“I think the board and administration have done their job to reduce this budget by $725,000 and still have the programs we want to have from an educational standpoint. This is what we want our school to have. Whatever plays out in the next couple of months, either from the governor or otherwise, we’ll take it as it comes.”
“And I think we need to send our displeasure to the governor and anyone else who will listen,” added Lounsbury.
Boyd suggested the board request that someone from the Legislature or the Vermont Agency of Education attend the board’s public budget information meetings to answer questions and discuss issues with the public.
“Someone to flog?” asked Grinold
“Well, that may happen,” said Boyd.
The board’s budget information meetings are scheduled for 7 pm, Tuesday, February 28, in Wilmington; and 7 pm, Thursday, March 2, in Whitingham.
In related matters, Boyd reported that he attended a Whitingham Selectboard meeting to discuss the town’s response to Whitingham’s projected homestead school tax increase of 52 cents, despite the school board’s budget cuts.
Boyd said selectboard members voted to include an article on the Town Meeting warning asking voters to raise $100,000 to put into their litigation fund to fight the state over the funding formula. “It was a good conversation,” Boyd said. “The selectboard is very supportive of the (school) board’s work and the situation we’re in with the state. They have concerns about the funding formula, and think it is aligned against us. They said they’re willing to attend our public budget information meetings to support where we’re at with the budget.”