Vermonters reject nearly 1 in 3 school budgets on Town Meeting Day



Published: 03-07-2024 7:47 PM

Voters struck down close to a third of school budgets across Vermont on Tuesday, the highest proportion in at least a decade, according to the Vermont Superintendents Association. 

Twenty-nine of 93 reported budgets were rejected, according to unofficial results collected by the association. Four districts still hadn’t reported as of early Wednesday afternoon, and 22 have votes still to come.

Last year, only two budgets were rejected on Town Meeting Day.

Leading up to Tuesday, voters had expressed dismay at the anticipated increase in education property taxes, projected to rise by an average of 19%, due in part to a proposed increase of more than $200 million in school spending.

In a joint statement, the superintendents association and the Vermont School Boards Association called for state and local collaboration in the face of a historic rejection of school budgets.

“Yesterday’s school district voting results indicate that, as a community, we have work to do in supporting our public education system and the taxpayers who fund it,” read the statement. “In an environment where societal needs are growing and the capacity of our public systems is diminishing, schools are expanding services to meet the needs of students and families. As a result, costs are mounting.”

School boards have until July 1 to rework budgets and pass them. If they’re unable to secure approval for a revised budget, districts can borrow up to 87% of their last passed budget to pay for operations.

The following districts or supervisory unions failed to pass budgets on Tuesday, according to the superintendents association:

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■Addison Northwest School District

■Alburgh School District

■Barre Unified Union School District

■Barstow Unified Union

■Champlain Islands Unified Union School District

■Champlain Valley School District

■Elmore/Morristown Unified Union School District

■Enosburg-Richford School District

■Fairfax School District

■Green Mountain Unified School District

■Harwood Unified Union

■Holland School District

■Kingdom East School District

■Lamoille North Modified Unified Union School District, elementary budget

■Milton School District

■Montpelier-Roxbury School District

■Mount Abraham Unified School District

■Northern Mountain Valley Unified Union School District

■Otter Valley Unified Union

■Paine Mountain School District

■Rutland Town School District

■Slate Valley Unified Union School District

■South Burlington School District

■South Hero School District

■Springfield School District

■St. Johnsbury School District

The superintendents association was still waiting on results from the Central Vermont Career Center, Southwest Vermont Union Elementary School District, Quarry Valley School District, and Washington Central Unified Union School District  

Schools this Town Meeting Day grappled with the latest changes to Vermont’s education funding formula, which affected how much money towns could spend at a given tax rate, and became a target of school spending frustration. 

Amid concerns about dramatic property tax hikes and questions about the impact of the state’s revamped education financing formula, lawmakers passed, and Gov. Phil Scott signed, eleventh-hour legislation last month allowing districts to postpone their budget votes to next month. 

Don Tinney, president of the Vermont-National Education Association, a teachers union, said in a statement that a “once-in-a-generation confluence of events” had fueled this year’s projected property tax increases. 

“I know that last night’s rejection of nearly a third of all school budgets isn’t a repudiation of our local public schools and the tens of thousands of Vermont students they serve every day,” Tinney said. “Rather, it’s a reasonable reaction to completely unrealistic spikes in property taxes driven by events over which our dedicated local school boards have no control.”

Now, as school boards must redraft budgets, the average estimated education property increase for Vermonters will almost certainly fall, though the exact extent will remain unknown until all budgets pass and the Legislature works through other Education Fund considerations.