BENNINGTON -- Monday evening featured a full slate of school board reorganizational meetings, as the Mount Anthony Union School Board met at 6:15 p.m. and the Bennington School District met at 7.
The first order of business at the MAU meeting, which took place, as always, at MAU Middle School, was to name a new chairperson to replace the departing Sean-Marie Oller. The board voted to appoint clerk Tim Holbrook to the position. Leon Johnson will remain as vice-chair, and Rob Sherman will take over the duties of clerk. Johnson and Dave Durfee will represent MAU at the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union board meetings.
The Bennington School District reorganization featured many familiar faces, with Ken Swierad remaining as chairman, George Sleeman remaining as vice-chairman, and Jackie Prue continuing as clerk. After an anonymous vote, Swierad and Sleeman were chosen once again to represent BSD on the SVSU board. New board member Jackie Kelly, who has served on the board for the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center, had also expressed interest.
The BSD also discussed the next steps after their budget was defeated by Bennington voters on town meeting day. Swierad also noted that when votes were announced, MAU's budget had passed 1156-1107 in Bennington. However, those numbers include North Bennington, where the MAU budget passed by a wide margin. In Bennington, the MAU budget was voted down, alongside the BSD budget.
Swierad suggested the board sit on their budget for now, as the state tax commissioner had recently indicated that the seven cent state increase in the school tax, which represents over half of the proposed 13.6 cent increase in Bennington that was voted down, may have been an overestimate, and could come down a few cents, according to Swierad. This could make the budget more palatable to voters. BSD's portion of the budget increased the total by only 1 cent, but was voted down 989-1,028.
Sleeman suggested that SVSU CFO Rick Pembroke have another look at the budget. "Every time we look at the budget, we go through this process, we find some small things that can be cut back," said Sleeman.
Pembroke was amenable to going over the budget again, but warned, "Could we cut a couple bucks here and there, yeah. But its not going to make a drastic difference unless you start cutting people." Pembroke said about 77 percent of the budget was made up by salaries and benefits.
The BSD board made a commitment in the past to keeping class sizes for grades K-2 below 17 students, although even now that isn't always possible, and some third grade classes have jumped as high as 27 students per classroom. Kelly suggested the possibility of using teachers' aides in response to rising class sizes. Swierad explained that the state reimburses the school 50 percent of the cost of having aides but only if those aides spend a minimum of 80 percent of their time working exclusively with special education students, making hiring aides to work with non-special ed students an expensive propostion.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB