Home News and Features MRPS Budget Defeated, School Board Must Make Cuts

MRPS Budget Defeated, School Board Must Make Cuts

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After the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools FY25 budget’s defeat on Town Meeting Day, a budget revote has been scheduled for April 30. 

City Clerk John Odum said it takes about five weeks to mail ballots and program tabulators following a board decision. In consideration of these logistics, the April 30 revote leaves the MRPS board less than three weeks to finalize a new budget.

At a meeting on March 7, the school board discussed closing Roxbury Village School (RVS) or making painful cuts to staffing and bus service in light of the defeated budget, which featured an estimated tax increase of 23% for Montpelier and 12% for Roxbury.

“We’ve been told that we have to make a pretty serious decision in a pretty short period of time, because we answer to the taxpayers,” said Jill Remick, board parliamentarian.

“This is new territory for us,” said Jim Murphy, board chair.

Tax Implications

“It is incredibly hard to talk through this,” said Superintendent Libby Bonesteel as she presented figures for cuts. She asserted that cuts to staff and transportation have “a tremendous impact on our system.”

By cutting $700,000 from staffing, the Roxbury late bus, and MSMS bus service, the estimated tax rate increases are 18.03% ($1.322) for Montpelier and 7.40% ($1.402) for Roxbury.

By cutting $1.4 million by educating K-4 RVS students at Union Elementary School (UES), the estimated tax rate increases are 11.69% ($1.251) for Montpelier and 1.63% ($1.326) for Roxbury. The $1.4 million is broken down into general education ($587,000), guidance, library, and nurse services ($86,000), administration ($221,000), professional services ($78,000) and district allocation ($445,000). 

Both scenarios add an additional $575,000 from the fund balance.

“Even with ripping this whole district to shreds, we’re going to have an 8% increase,” said Remick.

Board members discussed a tax rate increase range that could pass in Montpelier, landing at an estimated 12% to 14%. “There’s no crystal ball,” said Kristen Getler, board clerk.

Scott Lewins, board member, said he had the impression that, “it’s not the percent value so much as it’s what those specific decisions that we make represent.”

Roxbury Bus Services and After-School Programs

Bus service needs to be at the forefront of the discussion, according to Melissa Stark Rutter, from Roxbury. About three-quarters of Roxbury is not paved, and the buses don’t currently cover these areas. Rutter said most students are driven to the bus stops, or all the way to school.

Hannah Bryant, from East Roxbury, said, “for my eight year old, to get on the bus at 6:30, a bus that is not at our house, we leave home at about 6:10 a.m. That’s a huge impact.”

For Montpelier after-school programs like Part 2, Rutter said, “it is my opinion that you cannot absorb those kids into those programs with the timeline we are given,” if RVS closes.

“We are largely a working-class community, where families need to tap into the after-school care program that we have,” said Getler. “Many kids feel that RVS is their home away from home.”

While Bonesteel said it’s up to the bus coordinator to modify routes, board member Jake Feldman suggested adding another bus or van for those most impacted if RVS closed.

RVS Committee Board Members Appointed

The board appointed Jim Murphy and Lyn Turcotte as Montpelier members, and Kristen Getler and Rhett Williams as Roxbury members. The community members and student advisors will be added through letters of interest.

RVS teachers and students are “having really good experiences,” said Williams. “A rushed process is certainly not anyone’s desire.”

Murphy said his goal is to pass a budget “in a way that protects as much of our educational programming and what’s best for kids as possible.”

“I want to make a commitment to one another to do this work authentically, with curiosity, and with as much objectivity as we can,” said Getler.

For future use of the building, Williams suggested a grant-funded after-school program, even if RVS students are at UES during the day. Lewins suggested creating a language immersion program.

A Message to Legislators

“This is not an isolated conversation that we’re having here at MRPS, and it reflects a statewide message and challenge to our lawmakers,” said Remick, noting 29 out of the 93 school budgets on the March 6 ballot had failed.

“Even districts that Act 127 supported, because they got more [pupil count] weights and benefited, failed. And so, why? Why is that happening?” said Bonesteel.

“I think the fact that a lot of these factors are out of our control does not excuse us from making tough decisions on things that are in our control, that I think can make a real difference in the cash flow in people’s houses,” said Murphy.

The school board will meet again on Tuesday, March 12, at 6:30 p.m.