Third time school budget votes for GM and LMH on Tuesday June 4

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2024 Telegraph Publishing LLC

On Tuesday June 4, voters in the Green Mountain and Ludlow-Mount Holly school districts will go to the polls to weigh in on school budgets for a third time in as many months.

Those budgets are intended to fund the operation of five schools in six towns. The Ludlow-Mount Holly Unified Union School District includes Ludlow Elementary and the Mount Holly School in those two towns. The GM Unified School District includes  Cavendish Town and Chester-Andover elementaries and Green Mountain High School, which draw from Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester.

The LMH budget proposed at Town Meeting Day in March has seen cuts of nearly $322,000, bringing the spending plan voters will see on Tuesday to $8,812,561.

The GM board cut nearly $900,000 from its original proposal to bring the budget that will be voted on down to $16,576,477. The original budgets were intended to take advantage of a state law that the Vermont legislature passed  in 2022 that was meant to make education more equitable across the state by adjusting the school funding formula and providing education quality and funding oversight.”

The idea was to send more money to schools that have a large population of students who cost more to educate — including low-income students and those with special needs — but not increase the base tax rates for those districts.

Unfortunately, while the original budgets would have kept the tax rates the same, the hot real estate market of the past few years has thrown the Common Level of Appraisal — used to calculate final tax rates — out of whack, which pushes actual taxes up. School administrators argue that they have no control over the CLA, which compares market values of properties with their assessment by each town. They also point out that they have no control over rising costs, especially health care or the number of special needs students who come into the schools.

While some press reports give the impression that towns across the state are seeing increases of 17 percent or more in education rates, that’s not the case for everyone. In the Green Mountain District, the post-CLA calculations vary with Baltimore’s tax rate dropping 18.75 percent from last year while Andover’s will rise 12.01 percent. Cavendish and Chester are in the middle with rises of 9.74 percent and 8.84 percent respectively. The reason that Baltimore’s tax rates have dropped is that they recently reassessed, bringing the fair market and assessment values in line.

The fiscal year for the school districts begins on July 1. If school districts do not have a voter-approved budget by then, they will have to borrow money to run their schools. Each will be allowed to borrow up to 87 percent of the budget it is operating on in this year. That means getting the money from a lender and paying interest, which will add to the cost. A district that does not have a voter-approved budget is also obliged to continue putting a budget before the voters until a budget passes.

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