In the Vermont tradition, Calais residents lifted their hands to speak as a community this Town Meeting Day.
Voters here and in similar meetings across the state determine local school spending, and are expected to raise budgets by an average of 5 percent. The increase comes as enrollment drops by just less than 2 percent statewide.
"I think that we ought to consider what we can afford rather than how we're going to finance taxes that are high and going up," said Phyllis Chase of Calais.
"I think voters are asking the right question. I think we need to ask why we are not able to get our school spending down," said Rep. Janet Ancel, D-Calais.
Ancel told the crowd Vermont does get a good return on what it invests
"Vermont has highest high school graduation rate in the country," she said.
She says holding back during the recession is leading to relative cost spikes now. Federal funds are melting fast, and rainy day funds have been tapped.
Steve Dale of the Vermont School Boards Association says each budget is unique, but several cost contributors aren't, including:
new collective bargaining agreements created limited increases in salaries
health care costs are up 14 percent
deferred maintenance is no longer being put off
and the general cost of education is rising faster than spending.
"The best way to get an answer in terms of your local community is to be at your local town meeting," Dale said.
By the end of the year, Ancel and her colleagues will review the efficiency of Acts 60 and 68, which dictate how funds are raised for school budgets.
"But that's not going to do anything about spending," Ancel said.
A handful of small areas didn't vote to go beyond the minimum tax level set out by the state last year. However, due to the multiple variables included in the property tax calculations, a vote for or against additional spending may not lead to a correlating bill.
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