T&G board approves 4% budget hike

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DORSET — The Taconic & Green Regional School District board voted Tuesday night to adopt a $33.5 million budget for fiscal year 2021, a 4-percent increase over the current year's budget.

"I believe the budget is educationally sound and addresses the most pressing needs of the district," Bennington Rutland

Supervisory Union Superintendent Jackie Wilson wrote in a memo to the board outlining the proposal.

The first statewide health care plan for all school employees, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2021, following an arbitrator's selection of the union-crafted proposal last month, "will result in significant cost increases for the district," according to the memo. The district has budgeted for an increase of about $112,000 over the current year, but Wilson wrote that potential changes in employees' enrollment selections could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional costs.

Under the new statewide contract, support staff will be eligible for all tiers of coverage, which range from single to family plans. "While it is assumed that some staff will elect a higher tier of coverage, or change from electing a stipend to electing coverage, any estimates at this time would be pure conjecture," Wilson wrote.

The portion of the budget dedicated to the district's pre-K program is projected to increase by about

26 percent, from an anticipated expenditure of $741,631 to $949,719.

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The district currently offers five-day pre-K for 4-year-olds at Manchester

Elementary Middle School and a four-day program for 3- and 4-year-olds at Currier Memorial School in Danby. The district also pays for 4-year-olds to enroll with private providers for 15 hours per week and 3-year-olds for 10 hours a week, the minimum state requirement.

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Next school year, the district will cover up to 20 hours per week of instruction for 4-year-olds with private

providers but otherwise maintain pre-K offerings at their current levels.

The board on Tuesday night also adopted what was characterized as a "goal" of maintaining the current pre-K program and continuing to work to increase equity throughout the district in future years.

The new budget also includes the addition of an employee who will oversee investigations of hazing, harassment and bullying complaints. Currently, school principals typically handle these investigations, which can be "incredibly time consuming," Wilson said at the meeting Tuesday night. The new hire will also work to promote restorative-justice practices at schools, she said.

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To account for these "needs and realities," Wilson proposed a reduction of about $140,000 in teacher-salary costs. "I believe the reductions will not interfere with our ability to deliver a quality education for our children," she wrote.

"We have some teachers retiring so we may be able to absorb the costs via attrition," Wilson wrote in an email on Tuesday ahead of the board meeting. "It is too early for us to tell at this time. It could possibly result in some layoffs but I'm hopeful that we can avoid that."

The district includes the towns of Danby, Dorset, Landgrove, Londonderry, Manchester, Mt. Tabor, Peru, Sunderland and Weston. Along with the Mettawee and Winhall school districts, it is part of the Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union.

None of the BRSU districts operate a high school, instead paying for students to attend public and private institutions. Taconic & Green's 2021 budget anticipates paying about $10.9 million in tuition to private, in-state schools, an increase of 6.5 percent over the current year. It also expects to pay $443,400 in tuition to public schools in Vermont — a 7 percent increase — and $163,750 in out-of-state tuition, a 14.7 percent decrease.

The Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, an independent school that is a popular choice for students within the supervisory union, has set its "sending town" tuition rate for fiscal year 2021 at $17,990, an increase of about 2.8 percent over the current year.

Contact Luke Nathan at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com.


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