What next in Arlington?

Wednesday May 12, 2010

The voters of Arlington School District have now shot down two proposed school budgets for next year, the most recent on Tuesday by five votes during a special town election.

Since this $5.4 million spending plan contained cuts totaling about $66,000 from the budget defeated at the annual March meeting, the question is, what was the point of the second rejection?

Many voters in Arlington, as elsewhere around the country, seem in a foul mood and itching to take out their frustrations -- mainly over the recession, it seems -- at every opportunity. But at some point, a budget has to be passed -- in Arlington, just as in Montpelier, Albany or Washington.

As school board Chairman Todd Wilkins said, conflicting forces seem to be at work, sometimes at cross purposes but adding up to narrow defeats for two budgets. Some want more spending on certain programs, some want more cuts -- or other, specific cuts -- and some appear angry with Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union Superintendent Charles Sweetman, who has agreed to a buyout that will have him leave in August and receive the rest of his salary through next June, paid out by the district over a three-year period.

It isn't as if this budget hasn't been discussed. There have been two forums since the March election, during which numerous suggestions were received by the board, some of which made it into the second budget. Many residents and officials have brought up good points about what should or should not be included, but the differences being discussed, when you look at the figures, are not that great.

The school board has gone back to the drawing board and has made cuts. If not every T was crossed, according to the wishes of some voters, or all the i's dotted, well, they aren't likely to ever be 100 percent of the time anyway. That's just the nature of democracy.

It certainly appears that those who were unhappy about the way the school district was operating should be satisfied that change is on the way with the superintendent leaving and new members elected in March to the school board. Those worried that spending would be cut drastically should realize that the reductions, at least thus far, are not drastic.

There should be room for a consensus on a spending plan for the 2010-11 school year.

The next vote should be in the affirmative, so the educators and administrators can begin to focus full time on the next academic year, rather than budget politics.


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