Public Assets Institute > Blog > They’re voters’ choices, not crises

They’re voters’ choices, not crises

Amid all of the speculation about the November election results, one thing seems clear: it was a pretty good year for incumbents. More than 90 percent of current members who ran for the Vermont House or Senate were re-elected. Next year, three out of four seats in the Legislature will be filled by the same people who occupied them last session.

Divining voters’ motives is always risky, but it’s hard to read into these results a call for sweeping change in the State House.

Last spring, however, when school budgets had nearly the same success rate as incumbents did on Election Day, the alarm was sounded for systemic reform.

Each year, Vermont voters have their say on 274 school budgets—local as well as union schools. Last Town Meeting Day, they rejected 34 of those budgets—just over 12 percent—on the first vote. Eventually, revised versions of all the budgets were approved.

What we saw last spring looked a lot like what we saw this November: democracy in action. In fact, going into Town Meeting Day, the governor and other political leaders were urging voters to hold their school boards accountable and to reject school budgets they thought were too high. Given the rhetoric, you would think policy makers would have applauded local voters for turning down a higher-than-average number of school budgets.

Instead, the Town Meeting Day votes sparked talk of a “crisis.”

There has been no attempt to understand why budgets were rejected. Nor did anyone look at why nearly 88 percent of them passed, including some with bigger increases than those that failed. Instead, there are new demands to reform the education funding system and to consolidate the governance of Vermont school districts. The reaction in Montpelier seemed to be: We can’t let this happen again.

But in a democracy, a “no” vote doesn’t mean the system is broken. It means people rejected a particular choice.

Vermonters still feel they have a direct say in their schools. If anything, we need more democratic participation, not less, which is the danger of creating large, regional school governance districts. The fact that Vermonters rejected 34 school budgets last spring shouldn’t be an excuse to diminish local control.

If we’re going to trust voters in November to elect people to serve in Montpelier, then Montpelier needs to trust those same voters’ choices again in the spring.

Posted by Jack Hoffman on November 18, 2014 at 7:28 am

One Response to “They’re voters’ choices, not crises”

  1. William Baker says:

    To assist in controlling the cost of education, and to allow the citizens who live in the school districts to directltly impact these costs and to have their voices heard, we should take a page from our neighbors in need New Hampshire.

    Once a school board negotiates a contract with the Teacher’s Association, voters in New Hampshire give final approval with a community vote.

    Do the citizens in Vermont realize that this is the only state in the northeast that allows teachers to strike?