The Milton school budget failed at the polls this Town Meeting Day, while the town measure passed by a slim margin, unofficial results show.
The district’s $30.1 million proposal was voted down, 1,038 to 677. The measure increased spending by $1.5 million, or 5.45 percent, over the current fiscal year and upped education spending per equalized pupil by 6.79 percent.
District business manager Don Johnson estimated taxpayers with a $250,000 home would see a $21 monthly increase on their tax bills.
The town’s $7.8 million measure, a 5.3 percent spending increase, passed 930 to 782, continuing the trend of slipping by on a small margin. With the grand list projected to grow by 1 percent, the town expects the budget to cost the same homeowner an extra $48 this year.
Selectboard chairman Darren Adams, who was re-elected with 1,414 votes to his three-year seat unopposed, said the slim margin shows taxpayers are at their limit.
“It signifies what it has signified for the last few years,” he said. “People are paying all that they can, and they are looking for a very conservative budget that still meets the needs of the community. That is a tough balancing act.”
School officials were disappointed to hear the results Tuesday night. Superintendent Ann Bradshaw said the board will “go back to the drawing board and see how we can make cuts.
“Everything is on the table,” she said. “We didn’t have a Plan B that we fleshed out.”
School board chairwoman Lori Donna said Gov. Phil Scott “did not do us any favors” by asking school districts statewide to level-fund budgets, a message delivered to late to be heeded by some boards who had already sent proposals to the printers.
Milton school leaders largely blamed the state for their budget’s increase, which was estimated to add 10 cents to the tax rate. At Milton’s pre-Town Meeting on Monday night, Johnson told the few attendees that Milton’s board was only responsible for three of those cents.
The rest the district attributed to a drop in the town’s common level of appraisal, which attempts to equalize property taxes paid to the education fund. A lower CLA equates to a higher tax rate.
Johnson said the state considers all districts’ budgets when setting tax rates, so even if Milton spends less, it doesn’t directly correlate to tax bills.
“We get the brunt of your dissatisfaction with the [state education] funding formula and the dissatisfaction with how high your property taxes are,” he said, “but believe me when I say this board is doing everything in their power to try and contain the costs of your taxes.”
The school budget invested in enrichment, including funding for elementary school field trips, language teachers and a K-12 music program, which board member Cathy Vadnais said was an effort to make Milton more competitive with neighboring schools.
As Donna put it, “We’re trying to provide a culture where all students can excel, not just a school district that responds to mandates.”
The budget also focused on student supports, as it replaced contracted social workers and psychologists with in-house hires and added three special educators, a behavior interventionist and assistant principal.
Monday night, parent Jamie Crenshaw said taxpayers may not understand how these students’ needs affect the budget. She urged the board to explain this in its budget materials for the next vote.
Tuesday night, Donna urged no-voters to come to the board’s next meeting, which was not set at press time.
But when the board does reconvene, it will do so with mostly familiar faces.
For the second year in a row, incumbent Karen LaFond won a write-in vote for the board’s one-year term. LaFond didn’t file a petition to run again but changed her mind the night before Town Meeting, according to a social media post.
LaFond bested fellow write-in candidate Shoshawna Mastin, 77 to 50. Mastin ran on a platform of changing the status quo.
Vadnais was re-elected, unopposed, to a three-year seat with 1,279 votes.
Newcomer Jenn Taylor was elected to the year remaining on a two-year term vacated by DeWayne Nolan-Watkins. She ran without competition and earned 1,317 votes.
Taylor’s husband, Chris, won election to the selectboard’s unexpired three-year term, besting Brenda Steady, 922 to 644. Steady last served on the selectboard in 2014, when she defeated none other than Chris Taylor.
Voters returned unchallenged incumbents John Cushing and John Palasik to their one-year terms with 1,392 and 1,089 votes, respectively.
Newcomer Lisa Barron beat out two other candidates in a three-way race for the Milton Public Library Board of Trustees. Her 529 votes edged Beth Bouchard (493 votes) and incumbent Tom Frank (323 votes) out of the race.
Lastly, voters approved the town report, 1,479 to 167.
Of the town’s 8,138 voters, just 1,720 showed to the polls, a 21 percent voter turnout. Just eight voters registered and voted on Tuesday, the first Vermont election to allow same-day registration, town clerk Sheryl Prince said.