Voters nix MTSD budget

All town articles pass

Disappointed doesn’t wholly describe the look on Milton Superintendent John Barone’s face when the defeating Town Meeting totals were read aloud Tuesday night.

The $26.2 million Milton school budget, a 6.69 percent increase from fiscal year 2014, failed, 772 to 1,123. This is the second consecutive year voters turned down school spending, by a slightly larger margin this year.

“I’m sad, but we’ll go on,” Barone said. “We’ll go back to the drawing board and decide what the next steps will be. We have to.”

The town budget, $7.3 million and a 3.5 percent increase, passed, 1,004 to 886.

In all, 1,926 of 7,238 registered voters, just over a quarter, showed up to polls, Town Clerk John Cushing said. That’s slightly higher than last year’s 21.5 percent.

The town’s measure to change the charter – eliminating listers, shortening library trustees’ terms and requiring the library follow the majority of the administrative code – passed, 1,320 to 510.

Townspeople re-elected unopposed library trustee Tracey Hempstead with 1,500 votes.

Milton School Board’s Doug Stout won by 112 votes over challenger Catharine Vadnais, 863 to 751.

The selectboard will see new faces in Brenda Turner Steady and Stuart King, who with 820 and 772 respective votes, bested Patrick Wright, Jr. (739) and Chris Taylor (596).

Steady and King fill seats vacated by Lou Mossey, who stepped down after 12 years on board, and by John Bartlett, who instead ran for the remaining two years of Pamela McKenna’s unfinished seat. Bartlett, unopposed for the new chair, earned 1,458 votes.

Current Chairman Darren Adams got 1,462 votes.

School Board incumbent Eric Houghton, unopposed for a two-year term, got 1,405 nods of approval. Newcomer Karen LaFond will take Reg Godin’s empty seat with 1,427 votes; she had no competition for the one-year spot.

Barone said the new board will discuss next steps at its organizational meeting on Monday, March 10. Barone was unsure when asked if the district will host another forum to determine what went wrong.

“I don’t know where we have room to make any more reductions, so I think that’s going to be the challenge for myself and for the leadership team and for the board,” he said.

Before the board accepted its budget, Barone presented $533,000 in further reductions, including the behavior-focused dean of students and a reading interventionist; the board nixed both after hearing parent pleas to keep them.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the personnel positions will go back on the table,” Barone said.

The superintendent felt optimistic this year, saying beyond the normal outreach like the pre-Town Meeting forum and mailers, officials posted more signs, presented at a well-attended Saturday afternoon forum with the town and hosted coffee houses, or personal budget presentations at residents’ homes.

The Milton PTA organized two of the latter events, one held a week prior to and the other a day before the vote, timing Barone said was possibly too late.

Barone suggested the vote wasn’t one of no confidence in the district but rather reflects the economy. He thinks taxpayers were turned off by the state’s predicted 10 percent tax rate increase, a point the district tried to drive home before Tuesday.

“What we’re hearing is it’s a message to Montpelier. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it’s not the best way to send the message, because the kids are the ones that are going to suffer,” he said. “But it’s a clear message, and it will be interesting to see what happened around the state.”

Barone left the town offices with his cell phone chirping with unread text messages; he’d immediately shared the news with his administrators, who will convene on Thursday to plan.

“I’ve got 1,750 kids coming back [from vacation] tomorrow, and I’ve got to be positive for them,” he said.

The selectboard will also reorganize on Thursday evening, Adams said.

Lastly, voters approved town reports, 1,573 to 211.

Note: This story has been updated since the original post to reflect two hand-counted ballots.

See more photos from Milton’s Town Meeting here:

 

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