Legislators Virtually Visit EWSD
1/12/21 Essex Westford School District Meeting
by Pankti Desai
February 7, 2021
The Essex Westford School District board met with members of the state and local legislatures on January 12th. It was a learning experience for attendees such as Senator Thomas Chittenden of South Burlington, who took notes and said he learned a lot from his first EWSD meeting.
The meeting mostly focused on the budget. The towns are invested in the budget because $82 million dollars is spent by residents of Essex and Westford to educate their children, but COVID plus other constraints mean that huge tax increases are likely ahead for every property owner. School board vice chair Kim Gleason expected an “18-percent increase” in the tax rate at EWSD due to “weighting”, which is determined by the state.
A more recent update from Montpelier indicates that statewide education property tax may increase less than 3%. This does not take into account localized adjustments known as Common Level of Appraisal (CLA), Merger Incentives and others.
There was also talk about when to vote on the budget. Many of the school board members agreed that voting in March rather than April, as usual, would be too early. Westford Selectboard member Julia Andrews expressed concern on combining the Essex town vote and the school budget vote on the same ballot. Andrews stated that she did not understand why the board is being “ambitious” with same-day voting.
Many of the members said that merging the two votes would save money and time, which would ultimately allow more citizens to vote. According to Pat Murray, the selectboard clerk, ”Both the school board and the Selectboard would like to have voting on the same day.” It would also help the state in certain areas.
Another problem discussed was the Agency of Education (AOE)’s understaffing. The AOE is responsible for giving resources and support to Vermont Schools. AOE also works with the state on school legislative decisions. Martha Heath and a few others raised the issues of understaffing and lack of resources.
Three members of the Essex Selectboard were in attendance, which raised a concern on whether a quorum at an unwarned meeting of the Selectboard was a violation of Vermont’s open meeting law.
Elaine Haney, the Essex Town Selectboard chair
Pat Murray, the Selectboard Clerk
Andy Watts, Selectboard member who left the meeting to resolve the issue.
To summarize, the school board conversations with local legislators were full of twists and turns. Though the meeting was informative, it was hard to follow. With the non-specific agenda and meandering conversations, it was hard to gauge the process.
The next meeting will take on the issue of Policy Governance.
Pankti Desai is a student intern, who attends Albert D Lawton Intermediate (ADL) School.