BENNINGTON -- A second proposal by the Finance Committee resulted in near-unanimous approval of a Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union budget for fiscal year 2014 Wednesday.
The $16.1 million budget shows reductions of $410,000 from the draft that was rejected by the board in December, yet is still up $2.7 million or 20 percent from the current budget. Of that increase, $1.5 million is attributed to a loss of federal grants.
Unlike school district budgets that are voted by the public, supervisory union budgets in Vermont are approved by the school board and the costs are then assessed to the member districts. Some of the costs, such as administration, are paid proportional to student populations in each district, while other costs such as special education are billed directly to member districts based on the services they need. The impact of the SVSU increase is greater in some districts than others given the variance of additions in the different schools.
Three-quarters of the increase ($2 million) is in the special education department. Technology and the early childhood program each make up about 10 percent of the increase and the rest is divided among curriculum, administration and finance.
The only person to vote against the budget was Ken Swierad, of the Bennington School District, who said BSD’s budget cannot take the $1.4 million increase in assessment the budget will deliver. The other two BSD members voted in favor of the SVSU budget, although George Sleeman did so with hesitation saying it may have a "devastating affect" on the local budget.
"This budget is really going to drive our budget right off the charts ... it’s going to have a devastating effect on the Bennington School District budget," Sleeman said. "I hope that in the event that we at Bennington School District lose our budget, that somehow we’re going to be able to come back to the supervisory union (and reduce the SVSU budget), because otherwise it means that we’re going to have to really chop deeply into the education that we offer our elementary students."
Other members suggested the board will have to relay to the community the importance of the increases to the budget.
"The budget is up but there are some real reasons why and everybody keeps throwing dollars around, but we have real significant problems at the elementary level that need to be addressed and there were changes made to try to put things in there to address those because we have special needs ... that are running off the charts and they don’t get any better if you don’t address them up front," said Leon Johnson, a member of the Mount Anthony Union board.
The Finance Committee and many others on the board participated in numerous budget meetings since the board rejected the previous proposal by a 7-6 vote. Since that time the Finance Committee decided against replacing a retiring special educator, in order to cut $40,000 for professional development, postpone hiring a human resource director until next spring, and reduce other expenses.
The impact of the SVSU budget increase will differ slightly depending whether North Bennington Graded School remains in operation or if it is replaced by an independent school next year. Assuming the public school closes, Shaftsbury School District’s assessment from the supervisory union will see the greatest increase of 46 percent ($330,000). BSD will see a 40 percent increase ($1,547,000), Pownal a 33 percent increase ($359,000), North Bennington, 23 percent ($95,000); Mount Anthony Union, 17 percent ($1,022,000); and Woodford, 13 percent ($10,000). The major reason for the discrepancies from district to district is greater increases of special education resources in some schools.
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