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Many Vt. school budgets go down in defeat - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Many Vt. school budgets go down in defeat

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

The message from many voters across the state was clear Tuesday-- they've had enough of rising school budgets and the statewide property taxes that propel them.

Out of the 248 budgets voted on, 35 were defeated, most notably in larger communities like Burlington, Colchester, Montpelier, Rutland and Bennington, the highest failure rate in a decade. But will it send a message?

"Because these numbers are in the middle, people will see in the numbers whatever they choose to see," said Steve Dale of the Vermont School Boards Association. "I don't think it's a message that the whole system is broken and needs to be radically altered, but clearly there's reason for people to sit up and pay attention."

Dale says in about half the cases, it was the proposed 7-cent increase in the statewide property tax rate that pushed voters over the edge. A case in point-- Burlington. The proposed school budget would have increased spending by 3.9 percent. But because of the increase in the statewide property tax and other elements of the education funding formula, Burlington residents faced a 9.9 percent tax increase.

"That is what was so confusing to people in many towns, is that their local boards they felt had done a very good job of fashioning a budget that would do the job," Dale said.

Tuesday's outcomes put Burlington and other districts in a no-win situation and statewide school officials fear that educational programming will ultimately take the hit.

"While Burlington has been willing to invest in quality programs and moving the district forward in recent years, the message is we have to stop," said Jeanne Collins, the superintendent of Burlington schools.

Lawmakers have dabbled with education financing reform over the years. Now, those pushing for a change say Tuesday's vote-- as hard as it may be-- may finally get the message across.

"There's concern all over about the current education funding system and its effect and impact on property taxes," said Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe. "I think the message is clear. That it's time for us to take some action."

Scheuermann says she's pushed a bill the past six years to consolidate school districts and restructure funding at the local level. She, along with Republican Patti Komline, started a petition this week to abolish Act 60/68 and replace it with what they call an equitable, less complex funding system.

"The only way we're going to get action is to actually set a deadline. Clearly this has been going on for years. These property tax increases have been going on for years. They're going to continue to go on under this system if we don't take some dramatic action," Scheuermann said.

But it's dramatic action on such a complex issue that House Speaker Shap Smith says will cause more harm than good.

"If I had a silver bullet on the education finance system I would actually have proposed it because none of us really like to go to town meetings and get comments from frustrated constituents about their property taxes," said Smith, D-Vt. House Speaker. "I'm willing to take that time to make sure we do it right, not something rash."

With no relief likely from the Statehouse this year, 35 school districts will be rewriting budgets, looking for numbers voters can live with.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, in a statement Wednesday afternoon, promised to redouble efforts to improve the school financing system:

"As we saw in communities throughout Vermont on Town Meeting Day, local control over school budgets is alive and well. Vermonters are clearly frustrated by high spending, high property taxes, and the complexity of the statewide education funding system. In a number of communities, voters scrutinized their budgets and per pupil school spending, and asked school boards to go back and make adjustments. Vermonters know that their property taxes are too high and expect action to reflect that concern, locally and at the state level. We are all in this together, and in Montpelier we will redouble efforts to improve the system to get better outcomes for our kids at a lower cost."

Click here for a list of defeated Vt. school budgets from the Vermont Superintendents Association.

Related Stories:

Vt. voters weigh in on school budgets

Increased school budgets spike property tax rates

Town Meeting Day 2014 results

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