Home News and Features MRPS Board Protective of Teachers’ Positions; Cuts Necessitated by Act 127

MRPS Board Protective of Teachers’ Positions; Cuts Necessitated by Act 127

0
Photo by John Lazenby.
The ongoing struggle to create a budget heavily impacted by state legislation around new funding formulas continued at the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools board meeting on Jan. 3, when board members reviewed yet another FY25 budget draft that could result in a 19% school tax increase for Montpelier taxpayers and an 8% increase in Roxbury. While this draft keeps staff cuts (and maintains 2.5 positions hired with one-time COVID-era funding), some board members hope for legislative changes so schools can keep all student-facing positions.

The legislation, Act 127, changes pupil “weighting” with a goal of better student equity, but it has led to pressures on schools, and therefore taxpayers.

There have been minor changes to MRPS anticipated budget figures, but the general budget has not changed, said Christina Kimball, business manager. 

Act 127 caps the district’s equalized tax rate at a 5% annual increase, with the money being made up by the state’s education fund. This is guaranteed as long as the district follows budget constraints of limiting annual growth, necessitating cuts. The cap lasts through FY29, but ends in FY30, which could cause a significant tax jump at that time.

Based on the proposed budget, the equalized residential tax rate, before the common level of appraisal (CLA), is still $1.337 for Montpelier and Roxbury, said Kimball. This is the capped rate. For a $200,000 home, Kimball said this is an anticipated increase of $430 for Montpelier and $221 for Roxbury for households without income sensitivity.

Tough Choices

The board is facing the tough decision of making reductions in force (RIFs). “Our context still is that we want to support our theory of growth while being sensitive to the tax implications of our community and the statewide factors,” said Libby Bonesteel, superintendent.

Bonesteel said if all planned RIFs were removed, the budget would not meet the constraints for the tax rate cap.

Jim Murphy, board chair, said the board has crafted “strategic cuts that make sense now that don’t interfere with long-term goals, even if they do unfortunately have impacts on people.”

Regarding RIFs on filled positions, “I just think postponing it another year would give that person time to plan that life change,” said board member Emma Bay-Hansen.

Kristen Getler, board member and Roxbury resident, said the 0.5 full-time-equivalent RIF in a currently unfilled pre-K position in Roxbury would hit especially hard. 

“What Roxbury families are facing is the plight of getting on a waiting list at a neighboring community preschool,” she said, adding “pre-K is so unbelievably important in a child’s life.”

“I am not comfortable with any of these cuts and would be concerned if any of us were,” said Miriam Serota-Winston, student representative on the board. “It’s just an impossible situation,” she said.

The board also had the option to take more revenue from the fund balance, but decided against it this year. “I’m proud that we are willing to not maximize short term at the expense of long term,” said board member Jake Feldman.

Anticipating the “Tax Cliff”

“What we don’t know is what will happen in FY30,” said Bonesteel, who presented hypothetical scenarios. “It’s a five year challenge,” she said, emphasizing that even though it is difficult to predict years in advance, the board knows they may have to continue making cuts.

Following a state-imposed 5% tax cap, the equalized tax rate will be $1.70 in FY29, Bonesteel reported. Following assumptions in pupil counts, budget size, and the dollar yield, it could jump to $3.01 in FY30, a 47% increase, she said.

With other assumptions, the tax rate could also be $2.40, or $4.70 at the extreme, said Bonesteel. “You can see how much the dollar yield could impact things, and this is a number we do not have control over.”

“The administration has been talking about the necessity of bringing down our general budget, because that is what we have control over,” said Bonesteel. “Even if we’re very conservative over the next five years, the tax impact is going to be large,” she said.

Hoping for Legislative Change

Feldman said that while Montpelier is among the school districts disadvantaged by Act 127, “there are lots of districts which are gaining a lot of tax capacity right now, around the state.”

“I absolutely agree that this community is willing to bear a little more to ensure that districts that have historically probably been underfunded are better funded by the state,” said Murphy. However, many noted the MRPS district is impacted with unintended consequences, considering the RIFs.

“It doesn’t seem realistic for the taxpayers to shoulder that burden. So it does feel like something needs to change,” said Bay-Hansen.

“Our staff are being squeezed by, probably, a lack of political courage to sort of make a stronger commitment to education in Vermont,” said Nathan Suter, a MRSP parent.

“This is being done by the constant multi-decade tinkering of the state, trying to figure out their perpetual problem, which is lack of tax revenue,” said Jon Guiffre, former Roxbury school board chair. He urged the board to “maintain what we have right now, until the citizenry of our cities, our towns, and our state can tell them, back to the drawing board guys, this isn’t going to work.”

“There’s a real cyclical relationship between how good our schools are and our property values,” said Murphy. “Investing in our schools is not a drain, it is the engine, oftentimes, of how our communities function. Not just in terms of educating our kids, but economically as well, and just keeping towns vibrant.”

School Board Position Open

A position on the board is open; any member of the public can get on the ballot, requiring 30 signatures by the end of January.

The next meeting, Jan. 17, will have a public comment section before the board votes on the budget that will be on the ballot on Town Meeting Day, March 5.

For more information, go to mrpsvt.org/budget.

UNDERWRITING SUPPORT PROVIDED BY