The pandemic has brought upheaval after upheaval to Vermont schools this year. But on Town Meeting Day, schools received some stability from their communities, which overwhelmingly approved the budgets of their local districts.
The Vermont superintendent and school board associations, which track results statewide, were still awaiting final tallies from three districts on Wednesday afternoon. But data the groups had already collected showed that 89 school districts won approval for their spending plans on Tuesday. Voters in just three districts — Wolcott, Barre and Georgia — rejected theirs.
“School board members are always relieved when they see that their district budget has passed, and I think this year they would likely feel even more relief because it's been such an unpredictable year,” said Sue Ceglowski, executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association.
Not all districts put their spending plans before residents on Town Meeting, and a few more than usual delayed votes this year. Twenty school districts plan to vote on their budgets at a later date, according to data compiled by the Vermont Superintendents Association.
School spending is projected to rise between 1% and 2% next year, much less than the 3% to 4% growth seen in a typical year. It’s unclear why, although it’s possible school districts budgeted more conservatively than usual given the economic anxiety surrounding the pandemic. Federal funding has also flooded into Vermont to help with the crisis, and this might be substantially offsetting expenditures in local schools.
Federal relief dollars have helped schools in other ways.
Early in the economic downturn, the state’s Education Fund was projected to face staggering shortfalls, which could have sent property taxes soaring. Instead, stimulus spending from Congress buoyed the economy, and the state’s coffers are now seeing unexpected surpluses.
Next year’s property tax rates have not yet been set, but lawmakers have sent signals the average bill should rise about 3%.
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