BENNINGTON >> Representatives from the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union gave a presentation before the Selectboard on Monday night.
"Tonight is a perfect example of the collaborative effort that we are trying to with the town," said superintendent Jim Culkeen, citing the annual joint budget presentation and the monthly meetings between school officials and the select board as two prime examples of that collaboration. He also brought up the SU's partnership with the Career Development Center, their involvement with the Workforce and Education Committee, and the recent joint Legislative Breakfast that was held in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce as further example of partnerships between the school and the community.
SVSU Chief Financial Officer Rick Pembroke said that the Bennington School District, which operates the three elementary schools in the town, will put forth a budget of $15,022,685, Bennington's share of the Mount Anthony Union District budget will be $18,503,239, and Bennington's share of the Career Development Center budget will be $2,131,443, meaning the total cost to operate educational services for Bennington children is just over $35 million. In terms of tax rate per $100 in appraised property value, this translates to a 4.61 cent decrease across the district.
The data displayed in the SU's presentation showed all student populations remaining relatively steady, save for pre-kindergarten, which saw a steep increase as the districts implemented universal pre-K for four-year-olds. The data also shows an increase in the number of students eligible for free and reduced lunch across all Bennington schools. While all students now receive free lunch because of the federal Community Eligibility Provision, the school is still required to track family eligibility numbers so it remains eligible to participate in that program.
"The Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union is committed to developing lifelong learners who contribute to their community and succeed in a diverse and evolving global society," said assitant superintendent Donna Leep, quoting the school's mission statement before continuing, "Our team worked together on this, and everyone has agreed to it, and it has lead us to some very common strategies that we are using to really address what we see here in this community. One of the efforts we had last summer was taking all of our administrative leaders to a workshop with Eric Jensen (an education training specialist and founder of Jensen Learning), who was teaching us about, what do we do in a community with an economy like this, how does it effect our education practices."
Leep attempted to answer some commonly asked questions about this year's budget. With the budget going down, she said, many have asked if they are still providing the same educational opportunities to students, to which she responded, "Really, what we do is re-organize, re-finance, and re-focus on what is important to us." She also highlighted programs such as personalized learning plans, career internships, and dual enrollment that are preparing students for jobs in the community.