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Voters here and statewide back school spending plans

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By ANDY KIRKALDY

ADDISON COUNTY — Area residents at town meetings and in Tuesday Australian balloting backed budgets for all four local union schools, the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center, and every town’s elementary school except Hancock (see story).

The support for Addison County and Brandon-area schools mirrored a statewide trend. As of late Wednesday morning, officials at the Vermont Superintendents’ Association knew of only three Vermont high school plans and five elementary school budgets that had failed.

Even though all results were not in at that hour, one superintendents’ association official called that tally “a really low number of defeats.”

Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Bill Mathis said the statewide support for school spending showed that Vermont officials’ focus on more school finance reform may be misplaced.

“The governor and the legislator must live in a different state than the voters … All we’ve heard is unrelenting talk of property taxes and school costs,” Mathis said. “My feeling is the people have spoken very clearly and universally … that they support their schools.”

Mathis said he has data that shows, once prebates are factored in, that Vermonters are spending a smaller percentage of their incomes on education than they were 10 years ago. That was before the Legislature passed Act 60, Vermont’s landmark school finance reform law, and, more recently, Act 68, which updated Act 60.

He noted that many towns’ tax rates are level, or up only slightly, despite inflationary increases in school spending.

“The big message is first of all it means that Act 60 and Act 68 are working, and income sensitivity is working,” Mathis said. “For all the criticism of Act 68, obviously Act 68 is working.”

Mathis also said he believes legislators’ move to apply prebates directly to property owners’ tax bills has helped homeowners make the connection between school finance reform and their wallets, and thus helped school budgets pass.

“This is sheer supposition, but this is the first year the actual prebate was subtracted from tax ball, and I think that made a huge difference,” he said.

LOCAL RESULTS

Vergennes Union Elementary School received the strongest backing among the area’s five union schools. Vergennes, Panton and Waltham residents voted in favor of a 2.4 percent increase to $3.48 million by 876-313, or 73-37 percent.

Next, the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center proposal and the UD-3 (combining Middlebury union high and middle schools) plan each received support by 70 percent of voters.

County voters backed a $3.63 million Hannaford main budget and another $163,000 for adult education by 7,741-3,283.

UD-3 residents supported a $15.02 million plan that increased spending by 4.73 percent, 3,223-1,366. Much of that increase, school officials said, was driven by a $280,000 jump in special education costs.

About 63 percent of Addison Northeast residents supported a $12.92 million Mount Abraham Union High School budget that will increase spending by more than 6 percent. The final ANeSU tally was 2,435-1,429. Much of that spending increase was driven by transportation costs formerly included in ANeSU elementary school budgets, and a net of two teaching jobs were cut in the plan.

In Addison Northwest, a 5.4 percent spending increase at Vergennes Union High School to a little less than $8.5 million won 59 percent support. The tally was 1,588-1,095.

The closest union school vote on Tuesday was the 194-vote margin earned by Otter Valley Union High School’s $11 million proposed budget that will increase spending by 2.12 percent. In percentage terms, the final 1,733-1,537 tally among RNeSU voters translated to a 53-47 percent victory for the OV plan.

A $2 million bond for exterior repairs to the 46-year-old OVUHS school building fared better, winning by 1,836-1,408, or 56.5-43.5 percent.

That bond will fund an upgrade to the wastewater treatment facility, roof repairs, a replacement of old oil tanks, exterior drainage and traffic safety improvements, and a restructuring of the school’s front lobby to improve safety and visibility. The board intends that bond to be the first of a two-phase project. The second phase, which would include mostly interior renovations, could be presented to voters in November.

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