BENNINGTON -- The Mount Anthony Union School District, The Southwest Vermont Regional Technical School District, and the Bennington School District met with the community prior to Bennington's Town Meeting on Monday night.
Moderator Joe Hall opened the MAU meeting at 6:15 p.m. Each district had 15 minutes for discussion regarding their proposed budgets, which will be voted on by the townspeople on Tuesday.
The schools had set up a board explaining the breakdown of where the 13.55 cent per $100 in appraised value increase in school tax rate in Bennington comes from. According to the board, seven cents came down from the state, 5.16 cents came from a change in Bennington's common level of appraisal, 1.13 cents came from MAU's budget, and less than .2 cents each came from CDC and BSD.
Citizens in attendance were critical of any increase at all to the budget. "Are you aware of what's going on in Bennington?" asked resident Jeff Bombard to the MAU board, "There should be no increase, in fact, you should be working towards a negative." Later, to the BSD board, he reiterated himself, saying, "People in Bennington cannot afford an increase."
Resident Dennis Whitefort echoed his sentiments, saying, "We have a declining tax base, we have businesses moving out, we have a lot of things going on in the community. Educators are always saying, ‘Don't you want quality education?' Of course we do. But we aren't getting it.
"[The tax system] is not easy to understand, it's very complex, there are a lot of factors that go into it," responded treasurer Tim Holbrook, "but we are cognizant of what has been expressed, and school board are doing everything they can."
BSD board chair Ken Swierad also defended the boards, saying, "The only thing you can do to cut the budget is putting 25-30 kids in a classroom, and that's not good for the kids or their education."
Swierad at the meeting also read a letter from executive director of the Vermont School Board Association Stephen R. Dale to departing MAU board chairwoman Sean-Marie Oller, thanking her for her 25 years of service.
Voting in Bennington will take place between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Bennington Fire Department on River Street.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB