Home News and Features MRPS Board Discusses Direction to Take in $800,000 of Budget Cuts

MRPS Board Discusses Direction to Take in $800,000 of Budget Cuts

The day before the Vermont Tax Department projected an 18.5% increase in property tax bills statewide for the next fiscal year, the Montpelier Roxbury Public School board met Nov. 29 to continue its budget discussion about the effects of Act 127. The 2022 law, which takes effect next year, changes the state’s education financing system in a way which significantly disadvantages Montpelier-Roxbury.

“As numbers keep coming into our budget, the original estimate was that we were having to cut $1.2 million. Now we have to cut $800,000. That’s still a lot of money,” said MRPS superintendent Libby Bonesteel. The question for board members was how to break down the $800,000.

Board chair Jim Murphy said the board should find cuts that “create future savings instead of future costs,” as well as “find the cuts that don’t cut to the core of what we want to do,” as educators.

“Cutting is not the nice part of the budget,” said Jill Remick, board parliamentarian.

The $800,000 may comprise cuts in salaries and benefits, facilities, transportation, and individual school budgets, or with increased revenue. 

Bonesteel said that about 5.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, across the district and across both unionized and non-unionized staff, could account for about $520,000 of cuts. “There are lots of scenarios,” she said, including retirement incentives. Cuts up to seven or eight FTE employees would affect clubs and co-curriculars.

“I’m not going to go into exactly what the position is for each of those because there’s a person behind that position. That could cause undue stress,” said Bonesteel.

Bonesteel said that none of the positions mentioned are connected to social emotional learning and mental health systems, which are “starting to work, and we are starting to see benefits from it for our kids.”

Joe Carroll, MREA union president, invited discussion during public comment. “It’d be helpful to continue the collaborative clarity vibe that I think you all are really interested in doing,” he said.

A smaller facility cut around $22,000 would mean skipping classroom renovations. “New paint, new rugs, anything. We wouldn’t do that for a year,” said Bonesteel.

A larger cut around $140,000 would mean deferred maintenance, which “potentially has serious consequences,” said Rhett Williams, board clerk. A small maintenance problem could grow larger over time.

The Roxbury late bus, which currently has low ridership, and the Main Street Middle School buses were brought up. Bonesteel said cutting all three of these would account for over $200,000 of the $800,000. She said Roxbury students would still have a bus to MSMS.

“The transportation to the middle school might be an easy one to put on the list,” said Paul Carnahan, public commenter. “It’s a relatively new benefit to the community.”

“The connection that my kids make because they’re able to stay after school is critical,” said Angela Bauer, a public commenter from Roxbury. “When you’re thinking about the numbers, there are people behind them too,” she said.

“The savings from the transportation cuts, if we choose them this year, will essentially be there next year as well,” said Williams.

Track Money Not Used Immediately

The board discussed using the $1.9 million encumbered for the high school track renovation to help alleviate the “tax cliff” in fiscal year 2030, when the Act 127 education fund money which protects taxpayers ends.

“You’re talking about a tax increase, that huge,” said Nancy Bruce, public commenter speaking about Montpelier. “We’re maxed out,” she said.

However, the money isn’t being unencumbered immediately. “Spending it all now is not going to avoid everything we talked about for the next five years,” said Murphy.

Mia Moore, vice chairperson, said if the district spends that money now, “then it’s gone. We don’t get to use it again.”

“This is hitting the state really hard,” and a legislative adjustment may occur which could let the track be built, said Williams.

Murphy said that the state administration “has not been education friendly.” While the possibility exists of the legislature changing, he didn’t think they could count on it.

“Our idea is to keep that money on hold and use it the wisest way possible,” said Murphy. “We may need to use that money to flood-proof our basement,” he said. “This building came within eight inches of not being usable.”

FY26 and Beyond Is Too Uncertain To Predict

The MRPS business manager Christina Kimball said “every year it’s even hard to build the budget by January 1,” because “numbers are still changing.”

For future fiscal years, Bonesteel said “I just really don’t think we could give you even a hypothetical.” While similar cuts will be needed for the next five years, “I’m not sure exactly what the ballpark will be,” she said.

The board plans to provide direction to the administration on where to make cuts at the meeting next Wednesday, Dec. 6, before the first draft budget presentation on Dec. 13. The board will then vote on a budget by mid January.