Slate Valley school budget defeated for the fourth time

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File photo. The Castleton Elementary school, part of the Slate Valley Unified School District.

FAIR HAVEN, VT – For the fourth time, voters in the Slate Valley Unified School District have rejected a budget proposal, this time by a margin of 994 votes against to 962 in favor.

This is the smallest margin of defeat in all four votes. The latest ballot also attracted 267 more voters than the previous round.

The school board’s finance committee is scheduled to meet soon to discuss going to a fifth vote, either with the same budget proposal, as was the most recent case, or trimming the spending plan even more.

At a board meeting before the most recent vote, many area residents asked the board to again present the same budget that had been previously defeated, expressing their concern any further budget cuts would become detrimental to the scholastic programs.

What will the next budget proposal look like?

That is a decision for the entire school board to make. Before the most recent vote, the school’s administration, led by Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell, asked the board to consider $500,000 more in spending cuts. The board instead sided with the public in attendance at their last meeting and decided to re-submit the budget as it was to the voters.

This time, Olsen-Farrell said she will again be proposing further cuts to the spending plan for the board’s financial committee and the full panel to consider.

The next budget vote will take place on June 18. If the spending plan fails again, it puts the district up against the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. As of that date, the district, if needed, can borrow up to 87% of this year’s school budget to meet expenses.

Olsen-Farrell said she thinks the district will be OK without a budget in place initially, but if the budget defeats continue, borrowing may become a necessity by August. Whenever a budget is passed, the borrowed money must be paid back with interest.

You will still have to pay taxes

Even if the budget is not approved by July 1, taxpayers will still get a tax bill. Olsen-Farrell explained the state of Vermont will estimate a tax rate for the district and send out these bills. This, she said, helps the district pay its expenses until a final spending plan is approved.

How long it will take is the question. By Vermont law, the district must continue to submit proposed budgets to the voters until one is approved. In the early 1990s, Slate Valley set the record for the most re-votes ever recorded, not approving a budget until March, just days before the budget for the following year was to be voted on.