Manchester OKs '14 school budget

MANCHESTER - The Manchester School Board voted to adopt a budget proposal which calls for $11.692 million in spending for the next school fiscal year during its meeting Tuesday, Jan. 8.

The budget was adopted by a 3-2 vote, with school directors Brian Vogel and Katy McNabb voting against it. Board Chairwoman Debbi Wraga, along with directors Kim Johnson and Margaret Conner, voted in favor.

During the meeting, Wraga said she felt the budget represented a good compromise between holding expenditures down and maintaining educational standards.

"There's not a lot I feel we can cut out of this budget," she said during the meeting, before the board took its vote. "I don't want to compromise educational quality."

With an additional $45,000 being asked for in a separate warned article voters will get to consider at the school district's annual town Meeting in March, plus retiring an anticipated deficit of more than $79,000 from the current fiscal year, the bottom line number of the proposed budget will be $11,816,730, or about a 4.5 percent increase over last year. Less anticipated state revenues, the amount raised by local taxes will come to almost $9.7 million, or about $400,000 more than last year's total of nearly $9.274 million. The actual tax rate will rise by about one cent per $100 of assessed property value, from slightly more than $1.30 to slightly more than $1.31, according to budget documents presented at Tuesday's meeting.

Vogel, one of the two board members to vote against adopting the budget, said he had hoped that in general, the school board could have found ways to be a little more frugal with taxpayer's money.

Earlier in the budget cycle, Gov. Peter Shumlin had circulated a letter to school boards across the state, urging them to hold their budget increases to about 2 percent or so, Vogel said. That would have necessitated a budget proposal about $200,000 below what the board wound up adopting Tuesday night, he added.

That would have been a challenge, even "draconian," but finding about $50,000 might have been possible, he said Wednesday morning during a telephone interview.

"Town revenues are not abundant, and there are other priories as well," he said, noting the new Park House under construction at the Rec Park and the Roundabout project.

Areas in the budget which are changing include health insurance premiums which are expected to rise by about 14 percent, or $113,743. Special education costs are rising, and scheduled to increase 16 percent, or $208,000. On the other hand, special education costs among secondary school students in grades 9-12 is showing a slight decline of about $6,000. About 56 percent of special education expenditures are offset by a state reimbursement, said Dan French, the school superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union.

The board also decided to approve about $30,000 in additional money for paraeducators, after holding back on that for several years.

"I think the budget is a responsible one in that many of our costs such as health insurance and special education are experiencing double digit increases and some revenues are down, yet we are still able to hold the tax rate increase to a nominal 1 cent," French stated in an email Wednesday. "I think the budget demonstrates the board's continued prudent financial management - the Board has held the residential property tax rate flat for the last several years at $1.30."

On the revenue side, the school is scaling back what it is seeking from the town for the rental of the MEMS building for town events to $75,000 from last year's $100,000. Anticipated tuition revenue from out-of -district students is also anticipated to see a slight decline, from about $495,000 in the current fiscal year's budget to $481,000 next year.

The board also voted to approve the language of the school district's warning to voters from the annual Town School District Meeting. The information meeting will be held Monday, March 4, at 7 p.m., at the MEMS multi-purpose room. Town Meeting voting will take place the following day; Tuesday, March 5.

The warning will ask voters to approve payment of Burr and Burton Academy's tuition rate of $14,875 for the coming fiscal year, along with the $45,000 for the bus reserve fund. Two school director posts, one a two-year term, and the other a three-year term, are also in play.

In other business following the budget vote Tuesday night at the school board meeting, Dan French, the school superintendent, noted after that in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, security and school buildings has become, and will continue to be, a much discussed topic. That discussion has farther to go, he added.

Every building principal in the BRSU is reviewing their building security. At present, only Manchester has a formal security policy in place, an outgrowth of recent construction work done to main entrance which now has a buzzer system and video cameras in place there, he said.

One key issue likely to be debated going forward is whether or not buildings should be locked from the inside after the start of the school day. That's a question over which he anticipated some push-back, he said.

"I predict that will not be acceptable," he said during the meeting.

Other elements that will be part of the school security review are enhanced emergency drilling, an emergency response protocol that will be coordinated with municipal first responders such as police, fire and rescue units, while also exploring what preventative measures can be taken in the mental health area as well.

There's a gap that seems to be widening between prevention investments and the onset of crisis thresholds, he said, adding that this will be an area of interest statewide as well.

"This will be a big topic and something we're thinking about," he said.


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