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Missisquoi Valley School District cuts $1 million from budget ahead of revote on April 30 | Elections

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Highgate elementary students

Second-graders at Highgate Elementary School partition and compose shapes during a math lesson. 

SWANTON — Voters in the Missisquoi Valley School District will weigh a revised school budget on Tuesday, April 30.

The revote was triggered by the school budget failing to pass – 936 yes to 1,426 no – on Town Meeting Day. MVSD’s budget was one of 30 to fail statewide this year, due to voters’ concerns about hefty increases to property taxes. 

The revised budget is $49,744,437, a $1,035,000 million decrease from the budget proposed by the school board in early March. 

“We went back and we found where we could make cuts that wouldn’t negatively impact student outcomes,” board member Renick Darnell-Martin said in an informational video produced by the district. 

How the budget is being spent 

The approximate $1 million in cuts came from capital projects, or facility improvements. Phase one of renovations to Missisquoi Valley Union’s parking lot, for example, has been put on hold, Superintendent Julie Regimbal said. 

“These projects are important, but they can be postponed until the voters feel they can afford them as a community,” Darnell-Martin said. 

After the budget failed, MVSD conducted a budget input survey to find out what is important to community members and to understand why they voted the way they did. 

Survey participants weighed-in on the importance of each aspect of school spending, including instructional programs and materials, competitive pay and benefits for teachers, social-emotional and behavioral supports, career and technical education, after school programming, transportation services and facility upgrades.  

In the open-ended section of the survey, some participants shared why they support education spending, while others expressed worry about the impact to their taxes. 

“One of the misconceptions was that our students don’t do well, so people weren’t getting a good value for their dollar,” Regimbal said. “But our students are doing around state average or above state average depending on the grade level. Our district has been providing a really good education and improving significantly, and that is an important message.” 

After MVSD implemented new math curriculum, for example, student proficiency has seen positive growth. District-facilitated assessments conducted in fall 2023 show 52% proficiency district-wide. The most recent assessment, conducted this winter, shows 58%.  

“This board has been very focused on investing in things that make a difference for our student outcomes,” Regimbal said. “We have spent the past five years being very strategic and moving our agendas forward so that our students are performing better and we’re attracting teachers. All of those goals are being met by the board. We want to move forward, not back.”

To support teacher recruitment and retention, MVSD is in the middle of a years-long contract with teachers that provides salary increases over time, along with increased insurance offerings and professional development. 

The district also started conducting roundtable discussions with teachers mid-year to collect feedback on how their work is going. 

“What I find very moving is that teachers generally just want it to be better for the kids,” Regimbal said. 

Impact to the taxpayer 

If passed, the revised FY25 budget will alleviate some of the previously expected increase to property taxes. The estimated equalized tax rate – $1.2383 – would actually be lower than last year’s. 

But the impact to taxpayers’ wallets comes from education spending as a whole in Vermont and Franklin, Highgate and Swanton’s individual Common Levels of Appraisals, which are used as variables in the state’s funding formula. 

MVSD’s historical equalized tax rate

MVSD’s historical equalized tax rate. The fiscal year 2025 rate is one of the lowest in recent years.

Schools in Vermont are not funded locally; they are funded statewide. In other words, all Vermont property taxpayers contribute to MVSD’s budget, not just residents of the district. The CLA ensures people contribute fairly to the state’s education fund based on the assessed value of their home. Problem is, a strong real estate market in Vermont has many homes’ fair market values set higher than they are appraised for in towns’ books. 

Conducting town-wide reappraisals could help align the numbers. 

“Our community was paying a much higher equalized tax rate before we merged and then it has decreased every year, but at the same time, housing values have gone through the roof,” Regimbal said. “The appearance when you get your tax bill in the mail is that school taxes have gone up every year, but the opposite really has happened.”

The owner of a home in Swanton assessed for $200,000 for example, can expect their property taxes to increase by $366 from the current year. 

Regimbal said she would support the legislature looking at alternative methods of supporting public education rather than relying primarily on property taxes.

 If the revised budget does not pass on April 30, the MVSD school board has until July 1 to cut back more and get voter approval. If the board is unable to secure approval by that time, the school district can borrow up to 87% of its last passed budget to pay for operations. Doing so would likely negatively impact school programming and offerings. 

Allowing the district to borrow money

On Town Meeting Day, ballot article III also failed to get voter approval – 1,125 yes to 1,229 no. The question asks whether voters will authorize the school district to borrow money to pay expenditures while it waits to receive its funding from the State of Vermont. 

Every school district in Vermont has to ask voters this question and passing it is essential for continued school operations. Voters will be asked the question again on April 30. 

The fiscal year 2024 school budget will run out on June 30, 2024, but the state won’t distribute the fiscal year 2025 budget until December. School districts borrow a specified percentage of their approved budget so they can pay staff in July, August, September, October and November. 

School districts also typically make some money off of the loan’s reinvestment option, Lora McAllister, MVSD’s director of finance and operations, said. 

“This article is not giving the school districts license to just borrow lots of extra money,” Regimbal said. 

Voters can learn more about the newly-proposed budget at the informational meeting set for 7 p.m. Monday, April 29 in the MVU library. Voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 30 at the Franklin Town Hall, Highgate Sports Arena and Swanton Village Municipal Complex. 


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