Grafton, Athens Face Second Vote On School Budget

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(Host) The southern Vermont towns of Grafton and Athens will vote Wednesday whether to reconsider their joint 2011 school budget.

If the budget is allowed to stand as passed on Town Meeting Day, taxes in Grafton could rise by 37 percent.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) In 2003 the two tiny elementary schools in Grafton and Athens formed a single school, in Grafton, to save money. The combined school has about 60 students.

In March, the 2011 budget was approved in Athens but not in Grafton. But the towns’ separate votes added up to a majority in favor, so the budget technically passed.

Grafton resident Keith Hermiz is among the taxpayers who petitioned for a revote.

He says the school’s eight-to-one student teacher ratio is much higher than the state average. But test results are somewhere in the middle.

(Hermiz) "Our tax rate, if this goes through…would make it the K-6 school district of Athens Grafton would have the highest tax rate in the state. So you’re kind of like number one in spending but really kind of average in test results."

(Keese) School officials say the reason for Grafton’s estimated 37 percent tax increase has to do with how the town’s "per pupil expenditure" was calculated by the state. The calculation triggered significant penalties for Grafton.

Edward Bank of Grafton chairs the Grafton-Athens school board.

He says the school budget is actually down this year by 2.1 percent and enrollment is up by four students. But the state formula doesn’t reflect that.

(Bank) "It’s a slap to small schools. A movement of four kids in Burlington doesn’t make a difference. A movement in Grafton or Newfane or Townshend does."

(Keese) A spokesman for State School Board Association says local school tax rates are determined by many more factors than just how much a school spends.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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