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Vote Yes on the School Budget 

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Photo by John Lazenby.
By Joe Carroll

I am a Montpelier resident, a teacher at Montpelier High School, and the president of our local teachers’ union. I am writing in hopes that readers will vote yes on this year’s Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools budget. Passing the budget will allow our school district to continue offering an exceptionally high quality education to our students. Not passing this carefully crafted budget will result in throwing our school district, its students, and its employees into turmoil. I, and the many other school staff who live in our community, will face the impact of the considerable tax increase. However, not passing the budget will have significant short- and long-term impacts on our community’s children, and the consequences of not sufficiently funding their education would be profound.

Naming the Problem

There is understandable frustration around the school budget, but the truth is that a housing crisis in Montpelier and Vermont as a whole is the cause of the tax increase, not a radical increase in the school budget. A lack of housing in our community has driven up the sale prices of homes while their appraised value remains much lower. This gap is driving the increase in tax rates, and this is something that the school board cannot control. (If you want more information, look into Act 127 and the common level of appraisal.) It is my hope that discussions around the school budget will lead to a reflection on tax policy and a larger discussion of how we fund schools in Vermont. For now, though, we unfortunately have to confront a dilemma that was not created by our school board and that is not, at its root, a school spending issue. While there are reasonable criticisms of our school district’s spending, the school board has not been reckless with the resources with which our community has entrusted it. 

Cutting Staff and Curricular Programming will Negatively Impact Students

One effect of not passing the budget would be a reduction in school faculty and staff, as well as a reduction in the learning opportunities offered to our students. While our school district has already passed resolutions for reductions in force and curtailing programming that directly benefit student learning, not passing the budget would exacerbate these problems. With fewer staff members in our buildings, schools will be less equipped to meet the needs of our students, particularly our most vulnerable populations, who rely on one-on-one or small group instruction for remediation and enrichment, as well as extracurricular activities that foster inclusion and a sense of belonging. 

If we try to address this housing crisis by further reducing school faculty and staff, highly qualified educators and support staff will be more likely to seek employment elsewhere. Montpelier Roxbury already lags behind many Vermont districts in starting and maximum salary, and as a result, we have lost more staff members in recent years than ever before. Asking school workers to do more with less not only impacts student learning, it also makes MRPS less attractive for potential employees and less sustainable for those already working here. Educating young people is more complicated than ever, and we need more student-facing staff members, not less, to ensure that all students get the education they deserve.

Closing Roxbury Village School Won’t Solve the Problem

Some have argued that we should vote no unless MRPS closes the Roxbury Village School and buses the students to Union Elementary School. Deciding this within less than a month’s time is, simply put, incredibly unfair to the Roxbury families and their students. The board has approved a committee whose charge is to look at the long-term viability of keeping RVS open. This is an important conversation, but one that has to happen carefully and over time. I would encourage everyone to reconsider closing a school not as a cost savings or a quick fix, but as a very destructive force in a small town that loves their school and its teachers. Closing RVS because of a political failure to address systemic problems places the fallout on those who had nothing to do with creating the problem in the first place. 

Vote Yes. What Next?

Voting no will negatively impact the students in our school district without actually addressing the factors that have led to our current situation. Voting yes will allow for the uninterrupted education of the kids in our community, and although it will raise taxes, it can allow us to address the root causes of the problem. 

Reasonable frustration about this issue should not be directed at the schools. That frustration should be directed at the legislature and governor, who have avoided confronting the real issues: housing, affordability, and a more reasonable, clear, and equitable tax policy. Voting no on the school budget will harm our schools and do nothing to address the structural issues we are facing. I know there are many forward-thinking and capable legislators in the state house. Join me in contacting them and advocating for long-term solutions that do not pit communities against their schools.

The educators of Montpelier Roxbury love working with your children. I hope you will vote yes on March 5. Then, together, let’s advocate for systemic solutions to problems that transcend our local community. 

Joe Carroll lives in Montpelier and is a Montpelier High School teacher, and president of the teacher’s union, the Montpelier Roxbury Education Association. 

The material presented here represents the opinion of the author and does not reflect the opinions of The Bridge. Commentaries may be submitted to editor@montpelierbridge.com. Preference is given to submissions by those who live in central Vermont. Submissions are encouraged to be 500 to 750 words in length.

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