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Nadworny: School Budget

In March, Burlington, like many other towns around the state, voted down its school budget. People felt that the proposed 9.9% property tax increase was just too much, especially after the increases of previous years. Lost in the debate was the fact that over 2/3 of the increase comes from the Legislature increasing the property tax rate to fund the state education system.

To make matters worse, a school district audit found that the previous budget was based on projected, rather than actual, numbers. The school district was in the red for much more than it had estimated. And that made people really angry.

So we’ve been hard pressed to remember that when compared to similar sized school districts, Burlington spends less per student with below average administration costs. And this is while serving what is Vermont’s most diverse and most challenging student body. In fact, Burlington is the envy of many area educators for its new innovative practices at Burlington High School, nationally acclaimed Magnet Schools that replaced challenged inner city schools, and a commitment to equity and diversity far beyond what most other school in Vermont has achieved so far.

But people are so angry right now they’re not in the mood to support a new, revised, and more accurate school budget. At a local NPA meeting recently, a Burlington city counselor urged his constituents to “Bite the Bullet” and vote NO on the new school budget. I always thought biting the bullet implied pain and suffering. But the impact a NO vote has is clear: layoffs that threaten the Integrated Arts and Sustainability academies and other cuts that lay the suffering squarely on the meager shoulders of our young kids. I think we have to be careful that our resolve to clean up the mess doesn’t make Burlington’s children suffer for its administrators’ mistakes, its politicians’ ambitions and its adults' ire.

Certainly, it’s our responsibility, some might say our moral duty, to support and protect our kids, the smallest and most vulnerable members of our society, the ones who don’t pay taxes and can’t vote. And it’s unfortunate that this year, the school budget debate in Burlington seems to be all about the adults, because when it comes to education, that’s where things can go very wrong indeed.

As a community we talk a lot about the future of Vermont and the future of Burlington. But you can’t talk about the future without talking about kids. And you can’t talk about a future for kids without a plan for providing a public school education that allows our children a path to success in their lives and careers.

When it comes right down to it, the things that keep people moving to and staying in cities like Burlington aren’t the new flashy objects like renovating the old Moran plant on the waterfront, what attracts families to live here is the ability to provide a quality education to their kids.

Rich Nadworny is a designer who resides in Burlington and Stockholm.
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