ANNA BOARINI, Manchester Journal

MANCHESTER -- The school boards of Manchester and Dorset have both approved the budgets for the 2013-2014 school year. Both budgets include a warned article for the RELIGHT program that will update lighting in the buildings.

The approved Manchester budget will cost $11,985,236. The budget was approved at a school board meeting Tuesday, Jan. 7. A warned article for $65,363 includes $20,636 for the RELIGHT electrical efficiency project and $45,000 for a bus reserve fund.

In earlier meetings, the school board had discussed cutting approximately $63,000 from their budget to help lower the tax rate. Dan French, the Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union’s superintendent, said in school board meetings that $63,000 cut from the budget would equate to about one penny less on the tax rate. Katy McNabb, Manchester school board chair, said when looking at the budget, the board decided not to make anymore cuts.

"After we looked at salaries, health care and all the things we have to pay for, what we had left over was already really tight," she said.

An additional $20,000 was added to the budget to become part of a grounds fund. The school board and principal Sarah Merrill have been discussing putting in more green space and building a new playground. McNabb said this money will be used to help hire an architect or engineer to look at how to better utilized the space MEMS has available and get an idea of what work needs to be done.

The board did apply the whole amount of their surplus -- $241,000 -- to the budget, to help lower the tax rate.

Pending legislative approval, the residential tax rate for Manchester will be $1.4731. The base rate for the state has moved from $0.94 per $100 of assessed property value, to $1.01, pending legislative approval, a seven cent increase.

David Chandler, the chairman of the Dorset school board said their budget process went very smoothly. The Dorset budget, approved at their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 14, comes to $5,018,357. Their only warned article is for the RELIGHT project, which will cost $8,926. French said the difference in cost for the two schools had to deal with the size of the buildings.

Rosanna Moran, principal of the Dorset School, said the school board did a good job coming up with a fiscally responsible budget, while still keeping the educational goals of the students in mind.

"We have some situations out of our control [the state raising the base tax rate by seven cents]," she said. "We saw no increase in programs ... we reduced where we can without compromising educational opportunities."

In his budget address on January 15, Gov. Peter Shumlin called on local school boards to try and keep their budgets low.

"While I am incredibly proud of the progress we have made together on education, I am not at all happy that Vermonters will once again bear an increase of five to seven cents in the statewide property tax rate next year based upon projections for local school spending," he said in his speech. "None of us, however, can afford high spending and high property taxes year after year, while our overall student population continues to decline."

McNabb said the Manchester school board tried to be as fiscally responsible as possible, to help keep the tax rate low. For example, she said the board moved two paraeducators from regular education to special education, because they will receive some of the money for their salaries back from the state.

"We were lucky because we had a big surplus left over from last year," she said. "It made a big difference."

All of the school districts within the Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union now have approved budgets. The budgets and tax rates are as follows: Danby, a $2,137,274 budget and a tax rate of $1.583, Mountain Towns REDS, a budget of $8,363,626 and a tax rate of $1.579, Mt. Tabor, a budget of $422,593 and a tax rate of $1.065, Pawlet, a budget of $1,674,893 and a tax rate of $1.057, Rupert, a budget of $632,676 and a tax rate of $1.050, Sunderland, a budget of $2,397,126 and a tax rate of $1.265, UD #23, a budget of $1,808,563 and a tax rate of $1.615, UD #47, a budget of $3,198,922 and a tax rate of $1.674 and Winhall with a budget of $3,091,936 and a tax rate of $1.792.