Milton voters accepted a new fiscal year 2016 school budget at a revote on Tuesday.
The $25.7 million proposal passed 662-606, unofficial results showed. The budget is a 4.74 percent increase in education spending, up 7.01 percent overall, from fiscal year 2015.
Of the town’s 7,452 registered voters, only 1,270, or 17 percent, turned out to polls, open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Milton municipal complex. Last June’s revote drew 23 percent of voters to the polls; just a percent point more showed up at Town Meeting this March.
Instead of pacing around his office, Superintendent John Barone came to the lobby 15 minutes early to wait.
“God, my hands are sweaty,” he said. But his panic was replaced by an audible sigh of relief as soon as Town Clerk Sheryl Prince read the results. This was Barone’s third retooled budget to pass on a second try.
The original $27.8 million budget failed 1,055-720, on Town Meeting. A ballot item to spend $824,000 in surplus money, however, passed with nearly inverse results. The budget represented 6.12 and 8.19 percent increases in education and overall spending, respectively.
To attain the now-approved figure, the district cut $304,365 on top of the $581,000 suggested in March.
This included 5.5 total reduction-in-force notices that the school board issued by the April 1 deadline after faculty, support staff and administrator bargaining units declined to freeze their negotiated FY16 raises.
But because five additional faculty have retired, left the district or were reassigned since then, the district can recall 3.5 of them, Barone said. The two additional RIFs, both for vacant classroom teaching positions, can now be filled since the budget passed, he added.
The superintendent hopes the meager turnout and narrow approval margin indicates voters’ frustration with education funding in general, not Milton specifically.
“We’re doing so many positive things,” he said. “The student population in the state of Vermont is decreasing yet the expense of education continues to increase – I get it. I absolutely understand what people are saying, and I don’t know what the solution is.”
Barone said there’s a “terrible disconnect” between voting on a school budget, the education funding formula in Montpelier and taxpayers’ actual bills.
The district’s own two-page paid advertisement of tax tables, published in the Independent prior to the vote, was confusing; the district received estimates instead of actual current tax year information from the state, so voters’ actual FY16 bills could be higher, lower or the same as the tables indicated, Barone said.
Now that the budget is voted, Barone said the district can focus on hiring, particularly a new middle school principal since Barbara Burrington resigned to take a superintendent position in Grand Isle. The district is slightly behind in hiring since its budget was up in the air, he said.
Barone thanked the voters for turning out, “especially to the 662 who voted yes,” he said. “I appreciate their support and their faith in us. Onward to FY17.”
Joining him will be a new face on the school board: Former trustee Michael Boisjoli, local pyrotechnician and owner of the local Subway franchise, was elected to the remainder of Jim Lyons’ seat with 1,000 votes even.
Boisjoli says he’ll only serve until next election in March.
The school board is next scheduled to meet Monday, July 13.