SHAFTSBURY >> As time runs out to finalize the budget, the Shaftsbury School Board learned that they have gotten under the Act 46 threshold, but are still considering multiple cuts.
"You are under the Act 46 spending growth threshold by $2.30 per equalized pupil," said Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Chief Financial Officer Rick Pembroke, who added that the district is expected to add a few more equalized pupils, pending approval from the state, which should push the tax rate down further. Total expenditures are increasing 13 percent, but because of a substantial fund balance and an increase in pupils, the projected education tax rate is projected to be roughly level with last year.
That does not mean the board is still not considering making cuts, however. Two items that were extensively debated at the two-hour budget meeting on Wednesday, which took place before the board's regularly scheduled meeting, were security improvements to the front of the school and the hiring of a math interventionist.
Among the security improvements recommended, said principal Jeff Johnson, was a new key fob system that would replace the keys to the building, a new entry way with two layers of doors, similar to what has been implemented at other schools in the SVSU, and cameras. These improvements were suggested by two state police troopers who toured the building in the fall.
"We have a single-door entry, they recommended two doors," said Johnson, "so if somebody was going to come in and do some harm, they'd have to get through two doorways. Granted, that may not stop them, but it will slow them down." Once a guest was inside the first set of doors, they would need to be signed in by a secretary, behind bullet-proof glass, before being let into the building. Johnson said the change as it is currently envisioned would only cause a slight change to the exterior appearance of the building.
Parent Tim Scoggins asked if parents and grandparents dropping off their children in the morning would be screened through that system. Johnson said the doors would be open, as they are now, during that time period, adding that he is the one out front greeting everyone, and it would be his responsibility to identify a stranger that could do harm. "Except for the occasional grandparent that drops off that I don't know," he said, "I know 95 percent of the people that walk through that door. I'm out there every single morning."
"The purpose of all of this is to provide some deterrents," said Pembroke, said in response to an audience member who was skeptical of the benefits, "If someone wants to get in, they're going to get in. There's glass all around the building. If somebody wants to walk up to one of the classrooms and blow out the glass and get in, they can get in. The desired effect is to create the appearance of a secure facility, create some deterrents, and to be able to slow people down if they want to get through. You're never going to prevent it. At Sandy Hook, they had the perfect security plan and the guy blew out the doors."
Several community members in the audience felt that wasn't worth it for the roughly projected cost of $75,000. Board member Jeff Leake pointed out that a system like this would be very valuable in the case of parents who are not allowed to pick up children, such as those with restraining orders filed against them, as they would be more likely to be kept out of the building.
"I'm not going to feel any safer when this is in," said Scoggins, "What makes me feel safe in this school, and has always made me feel safe in this school, is with this principal and the principal before, Jim Harwood, these guys are out there every day shaking hands. They know the parents, they know the students, they know who's supposed to be in here. That's what makes me feel safe."
The math interventionist has been long discussed, and comes highly recommended by Johnson, who said that every other elementary school in the SVSU has a similar position. The math interventionist would help students who are falling behind their classmates at mathematics get specialized attention that should help them catch up to their peers. The school already has a reading interventionist that is supported through Title I dollars.
The school board will meet at least once more to continue working on the budget before they are due to be finalized at the end of this month.
The Shaftsbury School Board meets the second Wednesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. in the library at Shaftsbury Elementary School. Full recordings of their meetings are available on Catamount Access Television, and on the station's YouTube page.