Manchester school district budget passes


MANCHESTER -- During Australian ballot voting on Tuesday, voters approved the school district's proposed $11.985 million budget by a 335-117 margin.

In the races for school board, incumbent Stephen Murphy held off a challenge from write-in candidate Mark Slade, earning a 297-122 victory for the 3-year school director slot. Incumbent MaryBeth O'Donnell ran unopposed for re-election to a 2-year school director seat.

A total of 489 votes were cast from a checklist that numbers 3,516, according to the town clerk's office.

Manchester school board chairwoman Katie McNabb said she was happy with the results of the budget vote.

"We're absolutely pleased, and we were fortunate to end the year with a tremendous surplus we could apply to the coming year," she said in a telephone interview Tuesday night after the votes were tallied.

The school budget represented a 2.5 percent increase from the previous budget of about $11.692 million. The increase in the school district's budget was driven by increases in staff salaries and benefit costs, fuel expenditures and the creation of seven additional paraprofessional positions, McNabb said during Monday's meeting.

The school district's tax rate is anticipated to see a jump in the homestead rate of 8 cents, from last year's $1.39 to $1.47 under the new budget voters adopted, McNabb said.

"Most of this increase is due to increases at the state level in the education funding formula," she said during the floor meeting Monday night. "The state is proposing to increase the base rate by 7 cents."

The impact on taxpayers was softened to a degree by a fund balance of about $241,000 carried over from the current budget and applied to the one approved Tuesday. That measure trimmed about 4 cents off what would have been a larger increase in the tax rate, she said.

Had the school district not had that surplus to work with, they would have had to consider trimming staff and programs, she said Tuesday.

There will also be a $20,000 expenditure for a consultant to study traffic patterns, parking and the playground area, she said.

In answering a question by resident Jennifer Amatrutto about why their was a need for this study, McNabb said the student drop-off and traffic flow along Memorial Avenue in front of the school remained a continual source of discussion among the school officials and parents. The safety issues associated with students having to walk across the street from a parking area to the school were a concern that prompted another look at how that, plus a possible new middle school playground, might be addressed, she said.

Voters at Monday night's floor meeting also gave a thumbs up to an increase in the tuition rate Burr and Burton Academy will charge for students coming from Manchester during Monday's school district floor meeting.

The tuition rate will now rise from $14,875, approved at last year's meeting, to $15,400 for the coming year.

Mark Tashjian, Burr and Burton Academy's headmaster, told the audience of 71 residents who attended Monday's floor meeting that the school was moving forward on its twin goals of being an "incredible" school and one that was also affordable. He talked about how the school was embracing technology and one avenue of opportunity for students and educators, at one point showing an iPad tablet as an example of a tool that is providing ways to rethink education.

Pam Nemlich questioned Tashjian about whether the salaries being offered BBA's faculty were sufficient enough to attract and retain the best talent.

Salary increases for the coming year hadn't been determined yet, but the school's trustees were committed to ensuring salaries were in the top 20 percent of the state, he said.

Carol DuPont said that it appeared that state assessment test scores had dropped by 16 percent since 2008 for students coming out of Manchester Elementary Middle School, and asked Tashjian how this was affecting instruction at Burr and Burton.

Overall, Tashjian said he thought MEMS did a good job of preparing students for BBA, but noted that they have seen more students arriving from low-income backgrounds.

"There is a devastating relationship between poverty and academic performance," he said. "We've seen kids with increasing challenges and poverty."

In response, the school is developing programs to offset that, he added.

Don Brodie queried both Tashjian, and MEMS principal Sarah Merrill, on the amount of instruction given to penmanship and handwriting, expressing concern over the decline in student writing skills.

Merrill said MEMS teaches writing up through third grade. BBA doesn't teach writing, and never has, Tashjian said.

Pointing to the stylus he was holding that he uses with his handheld devices, he said when it came to today's student's handwriting, "it's probably not as good as when we were growing up."

Manchester's voters passed their roughly $4.5 million municipal budget during Saturday's floor meeting. Two members of the select board -- Ivan Beattie, the board's chairman, and Lisa Souls, ran unopposed for reelection. Beattie garnered 404 votes and Souls took 425. Michael Nawrath was reelected as Moderator for the town and the school district. The Southern Vermont Regional Technical School district's budget also passed, 359-99.


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