School Boards Send Level Budgets To Voters

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(Host) According to the Vermont Department of Education, most school boards across the state are presenting level funded budgets to their communities on Town Meeting Day.

And, as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the development comes at a time when labor costs, fuel expenses and health care costs are rising for many school districts.

(Kinzel) Steve Dale is the new executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association.  He says his members have gotten the clear message that they need to restrain spending this year.  He says some of the schools that are seeking additional funds, are doing so because they’re experiencing an increase in their student population.

(Dale) "School districts have taken budgeting very, very seriously this year. In my early weeks I’ve heard a great deal of discussion about it and I know many, many districts have done some substantial reductions…so overall it is clear that there’s been a lot of hard work done on bringing budgets down."

(Kinzel) Local spending on schools has grown very little over the past 3 years.  Last year, there was no increase in spending and the average budget grew by just 2% in 2009.   Dale says this trend comes at a time when labor costs, energy expenses and health care costs have gone up for many schools.                     

(Dale) "There have been a number of upward pressures and school districts have not only absorbed those upward pressures but they have done across the board some level of reduction – some districts it’s been substantial reductions."

(Kinzel) The Legislature is encouraging smaller school districts to voluntarily consider consolidating with other districts – it’s a law known as Act 153.  Dale says a number of schools will have formal and informal discussions about this option on Town Meeting Day.

(Dale) "This is a big deal. We’re asking towns to come together in ways that they haven’t before. You’re asking towns to merge cultures and histories and so it’s not something that towns enter into lightly but I think they are entering into the discussions very seriously and I would be surprised if there weren’t a number of communities that make these decisions."

(Kinzel) Many school boards have been able to avoid making sizeable cuts this year because of an influx of $19 million in new federal funds. Governor Peter Shumlin wants local school boards to understand that this is one-time money and that their budgets will face additional pressure next year when these funds aren’t available.

(Shumlin) "I also want to remind communities that our budget reduces the education transfer ongoing by $23 million, which means that they need to work doubly hard to ensure that a year from now their budgets include those reductions so that Vermonters don’t have more property tax increases that they can’t afford."

(Kinzel) School Boards director Steve Dale says his members clearly understand this message and they’re aware of the pressures they’ll face next year.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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