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On Town Meeting Day, School Budgets Passed Easily Across The State

A white sign with green and red lettering instructs people to vote today at the Winooski Senior Center on the school budget.
Henry Epp
VPR File
On Tuesday, towns across Vermont held votes over school budgets. Some will vote at a later date, but overwhelmingly, most towns, including the city of Winooski, shown here, passed their school budgets.

Town Meeting Day voters showed overwhelming support Tuesday for school districts, which have faced unprecedented challenges over the last year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.Jeff Francis, executive director of the Vermont Superintendents Association, said he’d confirmed only three budget defeats as of Wednesday afternoon, in Barre, Georgia and Wolcott.

Voters in 83 districts approved proposed spending plans; Francis said he was still awaiting results from nine other districts that held votes Tuesday.

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“I think that the electorate understands what schools are up against, and they are supporting the work that’s being done in schools right now,” Francis said.

The pandemic has been a significant cost driver for schools, many of which have had to retrofit buildings and increase resources for struggling students.

Sue Ceglowski, executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association, said boards have had to weigh pandemic-related cost increases against the financial stress being felt by many taxpayers.

"I think that the electorate understands what schools are up against, and they are supporting the work that's being done in schools right now." - Jeff Francis, Vermont Superintendents Association

“They’re focused on the needs of the students and also mindful of what their communities will support,” Ceglowski said.

Districts collectively were able to hold proposed budget increases to about 2% — less than the rate of inflation. Ceglowski said foreknowledge of the federal coronavirus relief funds that will be flowing into Vermont over the next year allowed boards to temper proposed budget increases.

Vermont schools are slated to receive nearly $130 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds over the next fiscal year.

Francis said many districts are still assessing which challenges they’ll use that money to address.

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“There are still questions about how that money is going to be deployed, but more significantly whether you’re going to have the human resources … available in order to respond in the manner that we think is necessary,” Francis said.

Meanwhile, statewide property tax rates are set to rise by a 3% next year, based on school spending proposals reported to the state. Twenty school districts have postponed budget votes until later this year, due to the pandemic.

Find more Town Meeting Day results and notable coverage in VPR's liveblog.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Peter Hirschfeld @PeteHirschfeld.

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