As a recently retired educator in a public university system I want to urge Montpelier residents to vote no on the upcoming school budget vote.
The prospect of an almost 25% increase in the school budget over two years with a 13% proposed increase this coming year is not only reckless and irresponsible, it is damaging to those in the community who simply cannot afford it. While it is relevant, I don’t wish to address the quality of the Montpelier school system here as the jury seems to be out on this and the reviews mixed. My point here is budgetary responsibility.
There is much talk about ‘community’ in Montpelier but it is clear that teachers, school board members and affluent parents don’t think at all about lower income people and the elderly who cannot afford their winter heat bills but are nevertheless forced to pay for whatever frivolities requested by the school system. The fact of a one and one-half percent increase in social security benefits this year and constancy of pensions because of low interest rates are a world away from those who refuse to give any thought to responsible spending on schools and can afford to pay whatever.
The income sensitivity offset of school tax payments in Vermont does not in fact fully make up for school tax increases of this magnitude, and depending on the municipal tax rate, lower income people and those on fixed incomes could see an increase in their property taxes with the proposed school budget. Moreover, to claim that income sensitivity adjustments mean that any increase is okay is disingenuous since the bigger bill has to be paid by someone, somehow, somewhere in the State. A more honest approach is to set the tax rate at or below last year’s and let those who want and/or can afford to voluntarily add to the school tax base.
It is sad that because Montpelier has historically approved school budgets unquestionably in the past, the school board is emboldened to come up with more and more unrealistic increases believing that voters would never question them. As the school board presents its wish list as a do-or-die must, Montpelier’s municipal infrastructure is in decline with streets in third-world condition. Many have said that these school budget increases are unsustainable. But that doesn’t go far enough. It is in fact unethical and unconscionable to present a budget which ignores the reality of many who live here. It is only by saying no to the proposed school budget that there might be some hope of conveying to those who control the purse strings that we’re not in la-la land but dealing with limits – not the least of which are financial.