In a letter to the editor in The World urging people to vote no on the Montpelier school budget proposal in March, I ended with the statement: “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.”
Well, that hope was dashed. The day after the proposed school budget was voted down, Sue Aldrich as chairwoman for the Montpelier School Board told VPR news that the loss was in part due to organized efforts to galvanize opposition.
The fact is, it was an organized and well-funded group called Friends of Montpelier Schools that took out a $450 ad in The Bridge this week to try to influence the outcome of the re-vote next week. And it was the Montpelier Schools System that took out a $900 ad (from school tax monies?) in The Bridge this week to do the same. Those of us who can’t afford significantly higher school taxes obviously can’t afford to pay for costly ads to influence the voting.
Putting the revised (but barely improved) school budget proposal in context; residents in Burlington, Colchester, Rutland, St. Johnsbury, and Bennington along with some 30 other Vermont cities and towns – together representing about 26% of the students in the state – voted down their respective March school budgets. It’s worthwhile to note that the proposed school property tax increases that went down to defeat were less (in some instances, significantly less) than the 13% increase proposed for Montpelier. In Burlington for example the proposed (and roundly defeated) school tax increase was 9.9%. But in Montpelier the School Board is coming back with a proposal that would still mean a whopping 11.8% increase over last year.
A quality public education for Montpelier students is essential. There is no question about this. The challenge is how to achieve quality within financial constraints and without demanding of those who have less that they give up what little they have.
Montpelier needs to have a school board that is representative of the community as a whole – comprising individuals who can make decisions which balance the needs of the schools with those of the whole community. Until such time, a ‘no’ vote on this ‘revised’ budget is the only appropriate action. It’s very important that everyone who has concerns about the budget gets out to vote on April 15.