New district contemplates first budget

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LONDONDERRY — There's a first time for everything, and for the Taconic & Green Regional School District, this Tuesday at Flood Brook School represents a significant step — its first yearly floor meeting, at which its first district budget will be discussed.

With that in mind, the district, which officially becomes the regional school district of nine towns July 1, is doing what it can to promote interest and attendance for the event.

The district's annual report is available online and at town clerk's offices throughout the district. Copies are available at the district's five schools, its nine member town offices, at Manchester Community Library and at the BRSU offices on Route 7A in Sunderland.

Buses will be available to bring residents up the mountain to Londonderry from Dorset and Manchester, leaving both campuses at 6 p.m., and returning after the meeting. And in the time-honored tradition of Vermont town meeting as the social event of the season, light snacks will be provided.

"It's really important" that voters attend the meeting, said Jacquelyne Wilson, superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union. "We're a big organization now, and we really want to hear from our voters."

Attendance at the T&G board's regular meetings has not been strong, Wilson said, though she hears from many people who watch those meetings on Greater Northshire Access Television, and she's hoping those viewers will make a point of attending in person Tuesday.

"The board is very interested in hearing from the community and giving the community the opportunity to ask any questions they may have. That will inform us for the future," she said.

The annual meeting will be highlighted by presentation of the proposed $31.9 million budget for fiscal 2019, which represents an increase of 2.9 percent from the overall budgets of the districts that merged to form the district a year ago.

According to the district's annual report, more than half of the budget increase comes from the cost of secondary education. The district pays tuition for school choice for high school as it does not operate one of its own.

"There were a mix of things that were happening" on that front, Wilson said.

First, the district needed to come up with a single formula for paying high school tuition, and settled on paying the Burr and Burton Academy sending town rate of $17,065 for any approved Vermont independent school.

Second, high school enrollment jumped by 30 students, increasing tuition costs.

We've had a heck of a time establishing an enrollment trend for secondary education," Wilson said. "This year we've budgeted for 15 additional students and we're hoping that will cover us."

The funding formula for high school tuition came about as the expiring member districts had to reconcile differences in how they paid secondary tuition in the past, Wilson said. Previously, Manchester paid the BBA sending town rate to BBA only; Dorset and Sunderland paid the BBA sending town rate to BBA and Long Trail School; and the Mountain Towns RED (Weston, Londonderry, Peru and Landgrove) paid the BBA sending town rate to any secondary school.

Moving forward, the T&G chose to pay the BBA sending town rate — about $2,000 higher than the state average tuition rate of $15,130 this coming year -- to honor and maintain its sending town relationship with BBA, and be fair to families for whom LTS, SMS or other schools were the best fit.

"It took a couple meetings but the board came to a landing that in fairness to honor past practices in the expiring districts that it would be fair to pay that BBA rate to all approved Vermont independent schools," Wilson said

Other increases in the budget reflect the need to pay for a district-wide curriculum director, as grant funds for that position disappeared, and the addition of three new administrative positions: a director of operations and assistant director of operations to oversee the T&G district's grounds, buildings and student transportation, and a food service coordinator overseeing the food programs throughout the BRSU.

While there will be business to be acted upon from the floor, the voters will get their say on the proposed budget by Australian ballot on Tuesday, March 6.

But there's a new wrinkle to that vote.

While voters in Danby, Dorset, Landgrove, Londonderry, Manchester, Mt. Tabor, Peru, Sunderland and Weston will cast ballots in their respective town halls, the ballots will be mixed together and the vote will be decided by overall simple majority. District clerk Rebecca Nawrath will supervise the tallying of votes, which will take place at Manchester Town Hall.

"Because it's a single ballot, the ballots must be commingled," Wilson said.

"We won't know how towns voted because now they're viewed as one electorate. But on the flip side of that the positive side of commingling is we really are viewing ourselves as one entity. We're not pointing fingers at individual towns," Wilson said. "If the budget goes down, the whole board will pause and say 'What do we need to do differently?"

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