Home News and Features MRPS Chooses Direction in $800,000 Budget Cuts: Meets Dec. 13 to Continue...

MRPS Chooses Direction in $800,000 Budget Cuts: Meets Dec. 13 to Continue Budget Talks

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At its Dec. 6 meeting, the Montpelier Roxbury Public School board discussed what will be cut from its $31 million budget in order to carve $800,000 out of it. The district’s FY25 budget — and the next four budgets after that — will be impacted by Act 127, which adjusts school funding state-wide. Superintendent Libby Bonesteel told The Bridge that a draft budget will be presented at the Dec. 13 board meeting, including example tax rates for homesteads based on up-to-date numbers.

“No matter what we do here, there’s going to be pain, including making decisions to not make cuts causes pain in the other direction, of hardship of increased taxes,” said Mia Moore, vice chairperson.

Because of Act 127, the district must make these cuts to guarantee the district receives money from the state education fund, which is money that taxpayers would otherwise be paying.

Ultimately, the board came up with $735,000 in cuts. “Four hundred thousand dollars of that coming from salaries and benefits, $35,000 of that coming from school-based budgets, $200,000 of that being an additional draw on the reserve fund, and $100,000 of that coming from the facilities line of the budget,” said Moore.

A budget cut of $800,000 is “an anticipated potential, so it could be $740,000, it could be $820,000,” said Bonesteel. “We are still very early in the budget season,” she said.

Cuts that have the least impact on the student experience are “a major factor that the board needs to be considering,” said Moore. Throughout the discussion, other board members made it clear that they shared Moore’s opinion on the topic.

Salaries and Benefits

“Eighty percent of our budget (total) is staffing and benefits, so there’s going to have to be some work done there,” said Bonesteel. “There really is no way to get to $800,000 without thinking about staffing and benefits a bit,” she said.

This would include a previously known position cut at Union Elementary school as a result of declining enrollment, not filling a couple of positions that were not open all year, and potential retirements, said Bonesteel. “It was very clear that the board members did not want to make any more cuts beyond the $400,000 from staffing and benefits,” she said.

No Transportation Cuts

For Roxbury, a 42-square-mile town, the drive to school can be a 30-minute round trip for a parent, and some families are operating with one vehicle, said Kristen Getler, board member and Roxbury resident. “I feel concern about the elimination of the bus at the end of the school day, when we don’t at this point have an after school program kind of concept in place,” she said.

Of the $230,000 in cuts considered in Montpelier and Roxbury, the largest chunk would be $170,000 for buses that carry 125 students daily to Main Street Middle School.

When bussing for Main Street Middle School was originally established a few years ago, “it was framed as an equity issue,” said Bonesteel, “because of their youth and because of distances from the schools.”

Families most impacted by cutting buses “are some of the community’s lower income families,” who may live farther away and have less flexible jobs, said board chair Jim Murphy.

Cuts to buses would “disproportionately impact the folks that we don’t want to be disproportionately impacting,” said Jim Eikenberry, a Montpelier resident commenting online.

Avoiding Deferring Maintenance

“We would not want to cut facilities drastically every year,” said Bonesteel, although she also said $100,000 could be comfortably cut from facilities just to get them through FY25.

Board members were against cutting deferred maintenance, and Bonesteel did not recommend cutting any more from facilities. “We have two very old buildings … and a building that was just flooded,” she said.

Decrease in School-Based Budgets

The current direction of $35,000 in total cuts to school-based budgets is broken down into $10,000 per school, with $5,000 for Roxbury Village School, said Bonesteel.

School-based budgets include “field trips and library books, which really stinks,” said Jill Remick, board parliamentarian.

The totals for school-based budgets range from about $215,000 to over $450,000, said Bonesteel, and examples of cuts would be limiting field trip distance, not buying new textbooks, or cutting a few hundred dollars per classroom. These cuts would be decided by individual principals.

Increasing Revenue from Fund Balance

The district already planned to use $400,000 from the fund balance, the same amount as FY24. While the total fund balance is $3.6 million, only just over $200,000 is not already assigned. This includes the $1.9 million encumbered for the Montpelier High School track, money for a net-zero study, and small facilities projects.

This year, $200,000 more can be taken from the fund balance without the board needing to vote on a policy change. If the board changed the policy, the district could withdraw more.

“I feel like it would be irresponsible to make some of these more extreme smaller cuts when we’ve got some money in the fund balance,” said Remick. “It seems like it’s a rainy day fund,” she said, “and it’s raining right now.”

The $1.9 Million Encumbered

The board had voted last year to encumber $1.9 million from the fund balance to renovate the Montpelier High School track. “As much as I really support the track, we’re just in a very different situation than we were,” said Murphy. 

“I’m still hopeful about a track as a track runner,” said Miriam Serota-Winston, student representative on the board, but “it’s probably making some community members either hopeful or angry, or anywhere in between, more than is needed.”

“For a very small fraction of those committed funds, we could, you know, rebuild the inner curb of the track, fix the substrate,” and improve the long jump pit or buy hurdles, said Nathan Suter, coach for middle school track.

“We still are going to need to be really strategic,” said Jake Feldman, board member. Because the Act 127 tax cap only lasts through FY29, the district will need to continue to decrease the budget to prevent a large tax rate jump in FY30.

“I don’t want us to do the thing where you buy it down one year, and then our tax rates are still impacted,” said Remick.

“If the legislature comes in this year and fixes Act 127, and we’re in a very different situation next year,” said Murphy, “we could still revive the track conversation.”

Bonesteel also said board members met with legislators to discuss Act 127 issues, and they learned that “the VSA (Vermont Superintendents Association) and VSBA (Vermont School Board Association) and pushing work on a school construction bill, which helps districts with necessary facilities updates across the state.”

CVCC Presentation

Jody Emerson, superintendent of the Central Vermont Career Center (CVCC), presented on the CVCC. She said “the best news for us and for our programming” are plans for a state-of-the-art center planned for Fall 2028, which would include a move to full-day academics.

“Last year we had 408 applicants for our programs, and we took 208. So 200 students who wanted access didn’t get it.” said Emerson.

“We don’t want to keep turning away students, but we don’t have the space,” said Emerson. She said the center currently plans to look for more community and industry partners. 

“I have a lot of classmates and people I know around the school who’ve gone to CVCC, and it’s just worked really well for them,” said Serota-Winston. “Especially with the concerns that we all have about getting a job that pays well enough.”

There will be two items on this year’s ballot from the CVCC. One will be the amount of the CVCC budget, which is “somewhere between $4 and $5 million total for our center,” said Emerson. Also, “Washington Central’s at-large member is up for renewal,” she said.

Bonesteel clarified that “even though we would be voting on that specific budget separate from the school district budget, it doesn’t mean that then there is another cost. It is already included.”

More information about Act 127, the budget process, tax calculations including income sensitivity information, and FAQs can be found at www.mrpsvt.org/budget. Meeting summaries are now being added at www.mrpsvt.org/school-board