Town Meeting Results/School Budget Defeats

Date: March 19, 2014

The March 4th Vermont Town Meeting day saw an unusual number
of local school budgets voted down across Vermont.  In all, 35 budgets were defeated by voters;
the largest number in a decade.  Many
observers believe that Vermonters are finally beginning to show their frustration
with almost yearly increases in property taxes. 
The topic of how Vermont’s education financing system established under
Acts 60 and 68 is affecting Vermont property taxes has sent a loud wake-up call
to many Lawmakers in Montpelier. 
concern all over about the current education funding system and its effect and
impact on property taxes,” stated Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe. “I
think the message is clear. That it’s time for us to take some action.”


On March 12, only a week after Town Meeting Day, a bill was introduced
before the House Ways and Means Committee aimed at reining in the state-wide
property tax rate.  The rate is currently
scheduled to increase 7 cents next year – the highest single jump in the
history of the modern education funding system. The bill introduced before Ways
and Means would cut 2 cents from the tax rate. House Speaker Shap Smith stated:
 “Vermonters are concerned about their
pocketbooks, and the increased tax rate really puts pressure on their
pocketbooks and we’d like to see if we can reduce that pressure.”  However, it is unclear whether there is
enough time and will for the Legislature to tackle Vermont’s education funding
system this year.


The proposed House bill aims to slow the growth in school budget
spending by making several key adjustments. 
First, there would be changes made to the excess spending penalty that
would require tougher punishment on school districts whose per-pupil spending
increases faster than the rate of inflation.  “We spend plenty of money per pupil in our
schools system for our K-through-12 education,” said David Sharpe, ranking
Democrat on the House Committee on Ways and Means. “And what we’re trying
to do here in the Statehouse is put downward pressure on that by requiring
schools who exceed spending over the inflation index to pay a little bit more
in taxes.”


Second, there would be changes made to the income sensitivity program
that currently reduces the property tax bill of about 60% of Vermonters.  The proposed changes would increase the
property tax bills of Vermonters who make between $47,000 and $100,000 per
year.  This change would mean that far
fewer Vermonters would be insulated from the effects of rising property taxes.   Thirdly, the House bill also would eliminate
small school grants, as well as a clause that now insulates many schools
against the negative financial impacts of dropping enrollment.  These changes are believed to be aimed at the
larger debate of encouraging the consolidation of school districts that is
clearly too large a topic to include with changes this year.   Consolidation is another method that is widely
suggested as a way to control the high costs of Vermont’s education funding

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