At a selectboard meeting on Wednesday, January 4, the board approved a 2018 operations budget of $569,681 of which $242,031 was to be raised in taxes, $191,079 from anticipated revenue, and with the balance of $136,571 being paid from the previous year’s surplus.
At the next regular meeting on Wednesday, January 18, the fireworks began. The meeting went smoothly at first, taking care of approving payable warrants, payroll warrants, and previous meeting minutes approval. But, although the discussion remained calm and thoughtful when the board addressed the school budget with Twin Valley School Board Chair Seth Boyd, an undercurrent of anger emerged regarding the state’s education funding system.
One of the main complaints board members expressed was that Vermont is so over-regulated in its dealings with businesses that business growth is totally discouraged. If there is no growth in work opportunities the population stagnates, or as in the Deerfield Valley, it decreases. Some 200 homes remain for sale in the valley and most manufacturing opportunities have long since left. Places like Readsboro are becoming ghost towns, and taxpayers and students are decreasing at an alarming rate, leaving those few who remain behind to carry the burden. More jobs and more people would actually be one solution to the problems with education funding. Karl Twitchell said, “At one time the Whitingham school population by itself hovered at 300, but now with Whitingham and Wilmington combined we can barely get 300 students.”
The selectboard discussed problems with the state school-funding methods and the devastating effect they have on the Twin Valley School District budget. The school board cut the budget by $750,000 over last year’s. To stay out of the “penalty box” they would be required to slash another $750,000. Due to the change in the common level of appraisal and to the calculation used for “equalized pupils,” the tax rate to run the school will be at $2.277; a 41-cent increase over the current tax rate. It was noted that running the whole town is at a tax rate of 68 cents.
The idea that the Twin Valley School could cut $1.5 million from its budget and still deliver students a quality education was astounding to all who were present.
Board members suggested that “the circumstances are reverse discrimination” and that the state education funding system is “nothing more than a cash cow for the state of Vermont.”
Karl Twitchell requested that an article be added to the Town Meeting warning asking voters to appropriate $100,000 for the litigation fund in the event that the town decides to file a suit against the state over the inequality of the school tax.