The Castleton Polling Institute conducted a poll for VTDigger on education issues. Three questions were asked: Whether respondents voted to reject or approve their local school budgets; whether registered voters supported or opposed the idea of consolidating school districts; and whether registered voters believe the property tax system should be changed or stay the same.
The poll shows that 65 percent of voters want the Legislature to revamp the statewide property tax system. Forty-seven percent of voters support and 32 percent oppose school district consolidation. Forty percent of registered voters in the survey did not cast ballots for school budgets on Town Meeting Day.
The Vermont Legislature is in the middle of making decisions about how to deal with a large increase in property tax rates at a time when schools, especially those in small, rural districts, have seen a 20 percent decline in student population over a 15-year period.
The statewide property tax went up 5 cents in 2014 and will go up 4 cents this year and 7 cents next year for residential property owners, according to figures from the Joint Fiscal Office. Non-residential property taxpayers will see a 21-cent increase over that same three-year period.
On Town Meeting Day, voters rejected budgets in 35 school districts.
Lawmakers are trying to find ways — in the waning days of the session — to improve educational quality and reduce costs over the long term.
To that end, the Vermont House has passed a property tax bill that would phase out $7.4 million in small school grants starting in 2019 and tie the excess spending threshold to inflation. The legislation also uses one-time money to reduce the residential property tax rate. And it sets the stage for changes to the property tax formula in the next legislative biennium, beginning in 2015.
The Vermont House of Representatives is considering a bill, H.883, that would create a framework for consolidating school boards and districts. The proposal envisions the consolidation of 282 school districts to 45-55 districts statewide.
In the poll, 47 percent of registered voters support a plan to consolidate districts. Support for consolidation increases with respondents’ levels of education, and men are more likely than women to support consolidation. Regionally, Chittenden County is far more likely than other regions to support consolidation; in the northern counties, registered voters are evenly split.
Overall, 22 percent of our sample said they voted to reject their local school budget. While those who support consolidation were slightly more likely to have reported voting to reject their local school budget than were those who oppose consolidation — 27 percent contrasted with 19 percent — the difference is not statistically significant. However, those who believe that the statewide formula for property taxes needs to be revised (65 percent) were significantly more likely to reject their local school budget than were the 13 percent who believe that the current system of property tax is fine (30 percent compared to 12 percent).
Support for revising the property tax formula crosses party and regional lines as well as education, age and gender. Of those who do not own their home (13 percent of our sample), however, only 33 percent say that the formula needs to be revised, while 53 percent have no opinion on the matter.
Castleton Polling Institutes methodology
This report is based on data from 682 interviews drawn from a random sample of registered voters in Vermont. Interviews were conducted by phone by from March 31 to April 7, 2014. Thirteen percent of interviews were conducted with registered voters on cellphones.
For a sample of this size, the margin of error at the 95 percent confidence level is +/-4 percent, although the margin of error is larger for questions involving subsamples of respondents. Although sampling error is only one source of potential survey error, precautions have been taken to minimize other sources of error for this poll.