NORTH BENNINGTON -- The North Bennington Prudential Committee warned a fiscal year 2014 budget Tuesday that shows a 10 percent increase and will have to be divided among two questions on the Town Meeting Day ballot.
The budget of $2,317,000 comes in just below the state's excess spending penalty that adds a tax surcharge to residents if a district's budget is more than 125 percent of the state average. The Prudential Committee cut $20,000 from the equipment line in the previous draft budget in order to avoid the penalty.
However, North Bennington is above the state's two-vote provision required of districts whose budget results in a spending per equalized pupil higher than the state average and increases spending higher than the rate of inflation plus one percent. Because the budget meets both of those criteria, the March 5 ballot will have one question asking voters to authorize the school to spend $2.25 million (the portion of the budget that falls under inflation plus one percent) and a separate article asking voters to approve $70,000 (which is the portion that exceeds that amount).
Since Act 82, commonly referred to as the two-vote provision, was enacted in 2007 no SVSU district has met the threshold. Stephen Dale, executive director for the Vermont School Boards Association, said he knows of 10 school districts since the passage of Act 82 that met the two-vote provision. Of them, six have had both articles pass, three have had both articles voted down, and one had the first article pass and the second rejected. This March, Dale said, he has heard there may be 15 or more districts who have to divide their budget into two votes.
The warned budget represents a projected 15 cent tax rate increase for the school district; however, the actual homestead tax rate increase for residents is expected to be about 10 cents after blending the rate with the Mount Anthony Union School District. The budget maintains all positions and programs at the same level as this year.
The school district also warned Tuesday an article asking voters to approve a tuition rate to the independent Village School of North Bennington in the amount of $12,938 if the Prudential Committee goes forward with closing the public school, which voters have authorized it to do.
Chairman Raymond Mullineaux said if voters approve the tuition article then $12,938 would be the maximum tuition the district would pay for students to attend any public or private, non-religious, school in Vermont.
The budget amount, if approved, will be the same whether the district continues operating North Bennington Graded School or closes the school and leases the building to the Village School. However the most recent draft budget under the scenario of not operating a school showed spending to be $77,000 higher than spending in the operating budget. Since that draft was presented to the board last week, the Village School announced a higher tuition rate that would make the different between the two budgets about $100,000. The Prudential Committee scheduled a meeting for Feb. 7 to discuss ways to bring the non-operating budget down to $2,317,000. Mullineaux said the Prudential Committee will find a way for spending in the non-operating budget to equal spending in the operating budget, however Chief Financial Officer Richard Pembroke said he didn't know how it could.
"I don't know how you're going to get, with this higher tuition rate, to the warning level," he said.
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