Hardwick, News

Reassurances Offered For School Budget Uncertainty As Annual Meetings Loom

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Chip Troiano

HARDWICK – Responding to reports that the Vermont Legislature is rethinking caps on property taxes that fund school budgets, one Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union (OSSU) school board member commented, “It’s real money and it affects the schools. We’re waiting for more information that we hope will be available soon. I’m planning to ask questions of the community on Facebook and make answers available before the school budget vote.

One Mountainview School District employee said the uncertainty causes a lot of worry. Changes from the state for other reasons had already required replacing pages in annual reports that had been completed.

Rep. Katherine Sims explained the changes, saying, “Repealing the cap is part of our effort to support districts in making tax rates more reasonable this year.”

Rep. Chip Troiano, writing on Facebook, reported, “… it’s all hands on deck. For the first time in my 10 years in the Legislature I am seeing a true bipartisan effort to mitigate double digit increases in school budgets which could result in substantial property tax increases. The House, Senate, the Governor’s office, Superintendent’s Association, the School Board’s Association, and others have been huddling for the past two weeks to brainstorm some relief for Vermonters.”

David Baker, OSSU superintendent of schools, isn’t worried for area schools. On Monday, he wrote “The only district that really had to consider budget adjustments was Craftsbury. They had taken advantage of the 5% cap. They are meeting on Wednesday evening and will discuss possible amendments to their budget. They have a floor vote on town meeting day so they can make all of those amendments on the floor.”

Then, with good news for other OSSU schools, he added, “All of the other districts are proceeding with their original town reports. We think that the tax rates will get better as the per pupil property yield goes up. So, in general, these changes will work in our favor.”

“How did we get here?” Said Troiano, “For the past three years we have been using ARPA dollars to reduce school property tax rates. [We have also been] funding support for our special needs students and to deal with pandemic and post-pandemic mental health needs of our students. Act 127 was to ensure that all Vermont students have equitable access to education, and the underlying funding necessary to support that equity.”

“However, the “5% cap” mechanism in Act 127 has not behaved as expected, preventing the legislature from taking necessary steps to reduce property tax rates for Vermonters, across towns, Troiano continued.

Sims, added, “We know changing the rules of the game mid-session is not ideal at all and will cause more work for school boards and school district clerks, but we believe it’s better than the alternative of tons of school budgets getting voted down or leaving Vermonters with a 20% increase in taxes.”

Troiano also said, “We are working to eliminate the 5% cap mechanism. We’re proposing a new mechanism that will target those districts facing reduced taxing capacity under Act 127. Details will be available as soon as the bill is more developed. I can not say we will totally zero out any increases. Factors like teacher and staff health insurance, building maintenance and other static costs that have risen, will still play a role in this increase. Town clerks can contact me for information on school ballots and voting.”

Troiano said he knows there’s a lot of concern about how these changes might raise the cost of annual meeting preparations and wants everyone to know that the legislature is aware of the effect these late changes might have. He wants everyone to know that “the Secretary of State’s office is available to assist and cover costs associated with possible ballot changes.” “I will post information as it comes along”, he said in closing.

Town School District Meetings

All the towns in the OSSU have published warnings for their budget votes.    Some have informational meetings. Only Craftsbury continues to vote on their budget from the floor of town meeting.

Voters in Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union towns have their chance to approve school budgets by Australian Ballot on Town Meeting Day, March 5.

The Craftsbury Town School District Annual Meeting is on Tuesday, March 5. It begins at 9 a.m. in the Academy Gymnasium, where voters will be asked to approve spending $5,703,092 for the 2024-25 school year.

Hardwick voters have their chance to weigh in from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. at Hardwick Elementary School for both the $8,159,635.43 Mountain View Union Elementary School budget and $8,535,233 Hazen Union School budget.

From 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. residents of Greensboro will vote at Lakeview Elementary School, for Stannard in their Town Hall and for Woodbury in the Elementary School. All three Towns will vote on both the Mountain View Union Elementary and Hazen Union School budgets.

Wolcott’s Australian Ballot vote on the Hazen Union School budget and $5,304,611.58 Elementary School budget happens from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Town School.

Stannard Town School District will decide all of their questions by Australian Ballot on Town Meeting Day, including whether to spend $289,429 for the next fiscal year, adding a third budget to consider for voters there.

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