Saturday April 27, 2013

BENNINGTON -- The Bennington School District received some assistance Wednesday toward a new budget for next year with a lowered assessment to the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union.

The SVSU board approved several changes to its budget, decreasing the supervisory union's total spending to the benefit of all member districts. For districts with fiscal year 2014 spending plans in place, newfound savings will be added to schools' fund balance.

For the BSD, the savings will allow board members to put together a budget they hope will be more salable than the proposed 19 percent spending increase rejected by voters last month.

The BSD is expected to finish a new proposal next week.

Between cuts and the reduced assessment, the district's draft budget stands around $12.9 million or a 13.9 percent increase from fiscal year 2013. Further changes could be made next Wednesday.

"We need every help we can get," BSD Chairman Ken Swierad said, addressing the SVSU board at its meeting Wednesday. "We need a little bit of help from you folks around the table."

The total reduction in BSD's assessment from Wednesday's changes came to a little more than $281,000, according to SVSU Business Manager Richard Pembroke, speaking by phone Friday.

Earlier this month, BSD board members went line by line, debating a list of potential cuts and shaving about $500,000 from their original March 5 proposal.

On Wednesday, the SVSU board approved a $87,214 reduction in the total supervisory union budget as a result of decreased anticipated health insurance costs, affecting all member districts, and an additional $234,672 reduction in costs for special education at BSD -- affecting only that district's assessment.

A group of additional requested reductions to the SVSU budget was only partially approved by the board.

By slim margins, board members approved separate motions to reduce $50,000 from an administrative line item, and to eliminate a 0.6 clerical position, saving an addition $25,673.

SVSU board members declined requests to reduce teacher tuition and materials and to cut an increase in funding for special needs children, called the PLUS program and budgeted at $208,000.

The rise in spending at BSD is largely attributable to increasing special education costs, combined with decreasing grant revenues.

This year's budgeting follows a 7.7 percent increase in fiscal year 2013, which followed flat funding the three years prior.

The district is expected to warn a budget at its May 1 meeting, with a special vote and public hearings and forums to follow later in the month.

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