Home News and Features Fiscal Year 2025 School Budget Ready to Be Voted On; 19.2% Montpelier...

Fiscal Year 2025 School Budget Ready to Be Voted On; 19.2% Montpelier Tax Rate Increase Proposed

Photo by John Lazenby.
At its Jan. 17 meeting, the Montpelier Roxbury Public School board members moved to approve a budget 11.9% greater than FY24 to be voted on at Town Meeting Day in March. The $32 million budget will mean a tax rate increase of 19.2% for Montpelier and 8.45% for Roxbury when the Common Level of Appraisal is factored in. 

Superintendent Libby Bonesteel thanked the board members for their work, as the FY25 budget season included budget pressures from Act 127 and difficult cuts. “Other boards are taking some different routes that I’m happy we’re not,” she said.

“The thing that always rocks my world this year is that if voters think they don’t like the budget and they send it back and we knock off you know another half million dollars, it does nothing to their taxes,” said Jake Feldman, board member, referring to the tax cap included in Act 127, which is then still affected by the Common Level of Appraisal. “That part is super hard to explain (to voters). And that, I think, might rock their world,” he said.

There was some regret among board members over the high school science sustainability position that is being reduced.

Jill Remick, board parliamentarian, said “I do still feel uncomfortable. I’m planning on supporting the budget, because it doesn’t seem like we can change this,” but hoped the district wouldn’t continue to a “death by a thousand cuts.”

Board members discussed the ballot language and concluded that while the ballot language itself would be straightforward, more information including numbers, budget pressures, and explanation of Act 127 would be available through op-eds and online at mrpsvt.org/budget.

Data Presentation

Michael Berry, director of curriculum and technology, updated the board on how data from student assessments is being used to improve education, and how teachers are collaborating to close gaps in material between classrooms and schools.

“Our data literacy is improving every day. We’re getting better at finding metrics, identifying metrics, using them in conversations,” said Berry. “We’re seeing scores go up in consistent ways.”

Along with special educators, the district has interventionists who “focus in on students who may be below grade level,” said Berry. “Our intervention systems are moving like lightning. It’s been amazing.”

Interventionists and special educators generally work with different students. “Those two worlds were very separate for a long time,” said Berry. “Now we’re rocking that a little bit,” and educators are collaborating more to match the right support for each student, he said.

“That is all new for everybody, and we’re doing a really good job at exploring that and defining systems to support kids,” said Berry.

Improving Math Scores

“The work that the teams of educators have been doing, particularly in literacy are paying huge dividends,” wrote Bonesteel in a Jan. 17 report, adding that improvement in math has been slower but they “are ready to dig in there.”

“Anecdotally, I’m in an Algebra II class, and a lot of my classmates find it a little concerning, just like the real difference in levels people are at,” said Miriam Serota-Winston, student representative on the board.

“I don’t believe that there’s something drastically wrong going on,” said Berry. “Our math educators are more motivated than anyone to dial in the system, and they’re working really hard. I think what we have is some misalignment vertically,” between elementary, middle, and high school, and “a small amount of misprioritization” of specific math topics,” he said. Berry also said the district will be piloting a new assessment for algebra this spring.

Even in a challenging budget season, Berry said schools can make significant improvements to math scores without a major investment “100%,” because the systems for teacher collaboration are already in place. Continuing teacher collaboration that improved literacy scores into improving math “doesn’t cost a penny,” said Bonesteel. “That’s a scheduling … that’s a technical problem.”

Earlier this school year, the board had set academic priorities, including closing the achievement gap between more and less privileged students. While results from standardized tests like VTCAP will provide data that will let the district address this gap, the latest test results are still currently embargoed.

“What I can tell you is that in socioeconomic land, there is not a significant gap between ELA (English Language Arts) and math. Science, yes, which was really interesting,” said Berry, adding the gap in science also appeared when comparing scores by gender. Berry said he had also looked at achievement gaps by Individualized Education Program status, race, and ethnicity and wanted to look for achievement gaps in data for chronic absenteeism, social-emotional learning, and multilingual students.

The plan is to lift the embargo for test data Feb. 1, said Berry, after which “we will have a metric to discuss the achievement gap for the first time.”