Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What's next? Superintendents discuss their failed budgets

A red brick building displays lettering that reads "South Burlington High School - building a proud tradition."
Zoe McDonald
Zoe McDonald
South Burlington School District's budget failed by a big margin — 2,856 to 2,072

This Town Meeting Day, Vermonters had to wrestle with whether they could shoulder significant property tax increases to support their local schools. Some towns faced double digit increases. Many school districts' budget proposals did not fare well, with nearly 1 in 3 school budgets failing on Town Meeting Day.

In Addison County, Mt. Abraham Unified School District's budget failed to pass by 228 votes. The school district's proposal to spend more than $1 million to buy their central office building in Bristol was also rejected.

"I think what our taxpayers are saying is simply, we have no more to give, even if we want to, we just don't have it to give," said Superintendent Patrick Reen. "Unfortunately, it comes at a time when student needs, academic needs, behavioral needs, and mental health needs are still high."

The school board for Mt. Abraham and other school boards across the state who saw their budgets fail will now need to develop new proposals to submit to residents in the coming weeks.

The budget for Slate Valley Unified School District, which includes Fair Haven, Castleton, Benson, and Orwell, failed by 534 votes. Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell said she's disappointed, but not surprised.

"We have a very conservative district that has historically voted down budgets on and off for decades," Olsen-Farrell said. "We respect the taxpayer's voice and are looking forward to regrouping and moving forward."

Olsen-Farrell said the school board did a tremendous amount of outreach with the community, from having coffee at local diners to conversations at the town's transfer stations. She also said they struggle with misinformation on social media about how schools are governed and paid for.

"They are not necessarily understanding that when education spending increases in the state, it has a direct impact on our local school district," Olsen-Farrell said.

Superintendent Ryan Heraty of the Lamoille South Supervisory Union, which includes Elmore, Morristown, and Stowe, has been particularly vocal in the statehouse about the effects of the state's tax structure on local schools. The budget failed in Elmore and Morristown by 22 votes.

"There needs to be a lot of work done in the state around our public education system, and thinking about what is being put into that system and what districts are being expected to pay for on an annual basis" Herarty said.

Meanwhile, Stowe decided to postpone its budget vote. "In Stowe, we walked into the budget planning process with a 24% estimated property tax," Heraty said. "We ended up delaying our vote and making a reduction to our budget because, with the 5% tax cap removal, our property tax increases would have been around 40%. So now we're looking at a 27% property tax increase."

Legislation passed in February gave schools up to April 15 to reschedule their initial budget votes.

House Education Committee chair Peter Conlon believes this marks a major inflection point for Vermonters.

"We need to take a re-look at our funding system," Conlon said. "We need to look at what it is we think we should have statewide as a school system. We've gotten a very sobering look at our school facilities. So I think our mandate is to both look short-term and long-term at strategies to bend the cost curve."

Key cost drivers included soaring health insurance premiums, inflation, special education, and the winding down of federal pandemic-era aid.

Broadcast at noon on Thursday, Mar. 7, 2024; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Have questions, comments, or tips? Send us a message or check us out on Instagram.

Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Andrea Laurion joined Vermont Public as a news producer for Vermont Edition in December 2022. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. Before getting into audio, Andrea worked as an obituary writer, a lunch lady, a wedding photographer assistant, a children’s birthday party hostess, a haunted house actor, and an admin assistant many times over.
Tedra joined Vermont Public as a producer for Vermont Edition in January 2022 and now serves as the Managing Editor and Senior Producer. Before moving to Vermont, she was a journalist in New York City for 20 years. She has a master’s degree in journalism from New York University.