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Looking at what happened in Waitsfield this week when a roomful of parents, community members and others met with the Waitsfield School Board to try to come up with a viable school budget for next year was painful.
It was painful and emotional as caring educators, parents and taxpayers tried to figure out how to do the least harm to the school's excellent education while crafting a budget that minimizes the tax increase that property owners will see.
Because the plain truth is that tax rates are going to go up – period. Tax rates are going up across The Valley regardless of whether school boards draft level-funded budgets or decrease their budgets. The tax rate increases at the elementary school level are going to be compounded by what is expected to be a double-digit increase at Harwood Union.
As was clear this week at the Waitsfield School Board meeting, there are a lot of not-so-great choices. Cut French. Cut music. Cut math instruction. Cut technology.
After a meeting that lasted well into the night, the board came up with a budget that kept increases to 3.89 percent. But keep in mind that a 3.89 percent increase in the school budget becomes an increase of 5.4 percent by the time the state applies the illogic of its state education funding formula.
Add in a double-digit Harwood Union increase of perhaps 15 percent and grind that through the state's education funding program and taxpayers are going to protest – rightfully so. The state's education fund system is not working. Last year the statewide property tax rate rose five cents. This year it's going up seven cents.
In 2005, the state's education fund paid about 40 percent of the cost of education, with town's covering the other 60 percent. Now town taxpayers are contributing over 70 percent of the cost of education and the state is covering the balance while the state regularly raids the education fund for budget shortfalls, the corrections department and other things that are not related to education.
To listen to the frustration and sadness expressed by parents, school board members and educators was to see just how thoroughly flawed the education funding formula is. There were really no good choices for this roomful of people who care about their community and their school. And Waitsfield is not alone. This scenario is happening throughout The Valley and at Harwood Union as The Valley Reporter goes to press on January 22.