North Bennington Prudential Committee considers budget, more

NORTH BENNINGTON - The North Bennington Prudential Committee met on Thursday, and saw presentations on the budget, special education, and early childhood education.

Southwestern Vermont Supervisory Union CFO Rick Pembroke presented the North Bennington education budget. As the budget stood at the start of the meeting, North Bennington expected to see a $198,056.54 increase in spending over FY14. This amount may have been mitigated, but the district's available fund balance from FY13, which is put towards the FY15 budget, was over $100,000 smaller than the fund balance from FY12.

Vermont also assesses additional taxes from school's that spend 123 percent over the state average spending per equalized pupil. Equalized pupils is a figure that is derived from a formula that is based on a two-year average enrollment, but which gives additional weight to secondary school students, students from lower-class economic backgrounds, and students for whom English is not a first language, additional weight, due to the increased expenses a school system will need to educate these students. The state average spending in FY15 is estimated to be about $16,168. North Bennington is currently spending $16,391 per equalized pupil.

Those factors, combined with an increase to the state-mandated base tax rate, which is used to calculate the adjusted homestead tax rate in each district, lead to a projected 22.36-cent increase for the district. That would equate to a 28.65-cent increase for the residents of North Bennington and a 16.11-cent increase for the residents of Shaftsbury District One.

Pembroke told the committee that they needed to trim about $28,000 from their budget to get below the added taxation threshold. Committee Member Matthew Patterson, who also serves as the chairman of the North Bennington Board of Trustees, suggested that they take $25,000 out of the $75,000 contingency fund, to which the board agreed. They also were able to trim their administrative printing budget down from $1,000 to $300 by agreeing to utilize Pembroke's office for basic printing needs.

While Pembroke said those changes would help, he said the only other factors that could affect the tax rate were increased tuition at the Village School and decisions made by the state department.

"There is, of course, the elephant in the room," said Patterson, "the [$22,110] SVSU assessment that we don't get anything from." The committee agreed that would have to be discussed with the SVSU at a later date.

SVSU Director of Special Education Wendy Pierce and Director of Early Childhood Education Karen Burnell each made presentations to the committee as well.

Pierce discussed the two new Associate Director of Special Education positions that were being created at the SVSU level, one of which would be assigned to the Bennington School District, the other of which would be assigned to Woodford, Shaftsbury, Pownal, and North Bennington, with each district paying a proportional share of their salary, based on enrollment. "Some things are time sensitive, and you sometimes need things to be addressed in a more timely manner than they can be now," said Pierce, who noted that she sometimes cannot deal with individual student concerns for almost a week because of her administrative duties.

When committee chairman Raymond Mullineaux expressed concern that the associate director would focus more on the other schools, Pierce said he could expect the person to be physically present in the Village School building several times a week.

Burnell described the way the early childhood program, which includes children from birth to kindergarten, evaluates its students, 10 of which are from the North Bennington district. She said the goal of the program was to "establish a level of quality that reflects and builds upon the strengths of each individual program while ensuring that all children are providing with an equitable foundation for future learning, to ensure high-quality programs that reach all children, to prepare children to meet the common core curriculum standards, and to support families in the earliest years of their child's development."

The program uses an assessment called TS Gold, which is an observation, rather than testing, based system used to analyze development of children in areas such as social-emotional, physical, language, cognitive, literacy, and math. For example, in the social-emotional area, children in the birth-2 age group are expected to respond to changes in an adult's tone of voice and expression, while children in the 3-4 group should be to accept redirection for adults. This is just one example of the type of standards the program uses to determine if children are meeting their development goals.

Children are analyzed in the spring and fall, and typically show improvement between the two tests. For example, a sampling of three-year-olds from the 2012-2013 school year showed overall increases in every category, especially in literacy and social-emotional development.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB


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