Montpelier votes on school construction plan

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(Host) Montpelier voters declined several key ballot items on Tuesday that affect the future of the city’s schools. As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the issues in Montpelier are also being debated in many communities across the state.

(Kinzel) The dynamic of the school debate in Montpelier is common to many towns: enrollment is decreasing and mandated costs, such as special education, health care and salaries, are increasing.

The school board is presenting a budget that increases spending by roughly 1.5 percent. Because the district is losing approximately 40 students, this translates into a five percent increase in the per pupil expenditure, a critical figure in determining the city’s local tax rate.

To deal with the declining enrollment, a trend that’s expected to continue for another decade, the school board is also asking voters to close down the city’s middle school. Students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades would be relocated to a proposed new facility that would be attached to the high school. Backers of the plan say it will help consolidate administrative costs in the future and is a better investment than trying to renovate the older middle school building.

Voters are being asked to support a 20-year bond to pay for this new $15 million project. It’s expected that state funds will pay for roughly one-third of the proposal.

At lunchtime, voters in Montpelier generally supported the school budget but the bond vote generated more controversy:

“I voted for the school budget. The cost of education keeps rising but it seems like the school board did a decent job of reining that in. There are other issues out there for the rise in the property taxes, so just reading through all the information I thought it was a sound proposition and voted for it.”

“I voted ‘yes’ on the school budget because my son goes to Main Street Middle School and it’s a wreck. There needs to be a new school. The amount of money that it would cost to renovate that building would be astronomical. And also the declining population of students in the city of Montpelier deserve a nice, fine school for the future generations to come. So I thought, why not do it now and enjoy a better quality of education and environment.”

“I think cost and spending is out of control in the city of Montpelier and I think we need to rein it in and reassess our spending in the city. I think it’s becoming a city that, unfortunately, people can’t afford to live in.”

(Kinzel) Montpelier voters are also being asked, in a separate line item question, to restore funding for a community resource officer for the school system.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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