Letter: Don't move town meeting day
Editor of the Reformer:
Your Feb. 11 editorial, "Why Not Hold Town Meetings in May?" echoes the Governor's ill-considered call for local school boards to scrap months of budget work, in preparation for March Town Meeting deadlines, and move the budget votes to a newly-created May meeting, presumably with a dozen or so intrepid voters turning up.
It was actually a bit of fun to witness school districts throughout the state giving a collective "Huh?"
Now, the Reformer pipes in that it was really a great idea after all, and suggests we should move all the annual municipal meetings to May.
The rationale for this seems to be that it's a lot of hard work for school boards to come up with their budgets, so we should move the calendar ahead so it'll be easier. As a former town school board member, I can confirm that yes, it's a big project to come up with the annual budget. But moving the deadline won't make it easier, nor will it produce a more coherent outcome.
It's always hard to predict every variable in any budget, whether adopted three months before the start of the budget year, or two, or one. Unexpected things can crop up during the summer, or after the school year is underway, just as inconveniently whether the budget is finalized in March or May.
There are other considerations,too. One is that the current timetable, with citizens voting in early March for a budget to go into effect July 1, there is sufficient time for a reconsideration. Not every district's budget goes to a revote every year, but, throughout Vermont there are always a number that do. The current schedule allows the necessary time for citizens to petition for a reconsideration vote, then for the board to schedule and warn a new district meeting, and for that process to play out, still with time to have the budget adopted before the fiscal year starts.
Sometimes there's a re-vote on the re-vote, which can take things right up to the start of the budget year.
Another consideration is that a school district, in an attempt to keep their budget level-funded, may have to reduce staff. The early March vote allows time for the aforementioned possibility of reconsideration, and still allows for reductions in force to be implemented in a timely way. The also allows those who lose their jobs a better possibility of finding another position in a different school district.
Finally, your editorial raises the time-honored and often-debunked argument that the reason citizens don't attend annual meetings is that they take place at a time which is inconvenient compared to some magical alternative. May, when folks want to get out and do yard and garden work, when the days are longer and the temperatures more conducive to being outdoors, is certainly less preferable than March, when the idea of getting out of the house and gathering with other townspeople for a congenial lunch and spirited discussion has great appeal.
Guilford, Feb. 13
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