MRPS Budget Decreases Property Taxes in Roxbury, Moderately Increases Them in Montpelier

Photo of a brick school building taken from a hill above the school.
Union elementary school. Photo by Carla Occaso.

Although state language might make it appear as if the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools Board increased its budget significantly more than it actually did, the board recently approved a budget that included a modest 1.37% tax increase for Montpelier and a 9.59% property tax cut prompted Roxbury. The directors unanimously passed the $28.6 million budget for fiscal year 24 during their regular meeting on Jan. 11. While the board passed a limited budget, unless it changes before Town Meeting Day on March 7 changes will state voting language for a 9.05% increase in state education spending per student (Article 3), rather than the modest impact of local budgets on property taxes. School board members debated how confusing this could be for voters, who might misinterpret ballot language about increasing state spending as increasing local spending. According to Executive Director Christina Kimball, the current state education funding formula for school districts is based on a complicated weighting formula.” We have reduced enrollment, which lowers our two-year average daily membership. This then also affects our weighting of secondary school students and poor students, so that we have a lower balanced number of students.”

Parents question the effectiveness of reading instruction

However, the public comment section of the meeting took center stage when two parents questioned the district’s provision of educational equity and effective reading instruction. Effective instruction and an adequate number of staff to provide it were district priorities highlighted by Superintendent Libby Bonesteel during the FY24 budget deliberations. Amanda Garces (a former board member) and Grace Pazdan, parents of elementary school students, shared their concerns about the budgeted cost of $69,261 for Columbia University Teachers College’s Reading and Writing Project. Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study in Reading and Writing is the program used by the district, according to Garces and Pazdan. Bonesteel testified against a dyslexia law in Vermont in 2020 and supported a more holistic language approach to teaching reading. “Our goal as an education system is to create lifelong readers,” she testified. “We must give equal importance to understanding from the start; Students need to love books, and if we only teach them piecemeal reading or the micro-skills, there is significant potential to jeopardize that love and develop students who have no sense of what they are actually reading.” According to Pazdan, theirs do both children “lack access to consistent, evidence-based, structured literacy instruction in their classrooms.” And she had previously reached out to the board about her concerns, she said. Pazdan added that she paid for study assessments and tutoring “out of pocket” to meet her needs. “We’re concerned about the children who don’t have these resources, and those are the children who are going to fall through the cracks,” she told the board. “The heaviest burden is being borne by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) English learners, low-income, learning disabled and other marginalized students… This literacy piece is a gaping (justice) black spot for the district, and I beg you to do something about it.” In a previous household hearing, Bonesteel reported that more interventionists have been trained in structured literacy classes called “Orton Gillingham” than teach them. Board Chair Jim Murphy and Vice Chair Mia Moore asked Garces and Pazdan to email them the research information presented.

Regional Legislative Discussion

Local legislators met with the board to discuss the prospects for state funding for education in this legislature. Discussion focused on legislation affecting schools including: testing for PCBs and removing these toxins from schools; education funding; tax credits; Childcare; an after-school program in Roxbury that may be funded by cannabis use; free and discounted lunch; government educational quality standards for ethnic studies and improving student literacy were briefly discussed. Legislators involved were:

  • Andrew Perchlik, three-year Washington County Senator, two years on the Board of Education and this year vice chair of the Appropriations Committee.
  • Ann Cummings, senior senator, chair of the finance committee and past chair of the education committee.
  • Anne Watson, first- Annual Senator, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources and Energy and Member of the Government Operations Committee.
  • Kate McCann, first-year representative on the House Education Committee.

The Board Facilities and Energy Committee has focused on developing a net zero resolution for the district. These include the Montpelier Energy Advisory Council, the Montpelier High School Earth Group, Roxbury’s energy coordinator and representatives from the government’s energy sector in this work. They will submit a final draft to the board in March. The thought is that this will result in a policy and action plan and will use $50,000 for the effort. The district has requested that PCB testing be conducted at Union and Main Street schools in February and March. Tests at Roxbury Village School and Montpelier High School are scheduled for January 2024.


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