Bennington to vote on reduced school budget May 21
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | May 03,2013
BENNINGTON — After cutting its rejected budget by more than $575,000, the Bennington School Board this week approved a proposed budget of $12,940,745 to be put before voters May 21.
Members of the Bennington School Board approved the budget proposal unanimously.
There will be an informational meeting about the budget May 20 with the vote to take place by Australian ballot the next day. Voting will be at the Bennington fire facility, the same location as the vote in March.
During Town Meeting Day, the Bennington School District budget, which was proposed at $13,518,802, was rejected by a vote of 1,095-915. While several school budgets around Vermont were defeated this year, Bennington was the only budget defeated in Bennington County.
The Mount Anthony Union School District, which runs the middle and high schools in Bennington, was also defeated in Bennington but received enough support in the other towns it covers, North Bennington, Pownal, Shaftsbury and Woodford, to pass.
The March budget proposal was an increase of $2,158,689, or 19 percent, over the $11,360,113 budget passed in 2012.
The budget proposal approved this week will be an increase of $1,580,632, or almost 14 percent, over the current budget.
The School Board has cut $578,057 from the budget proposal defeated in March to reach the new proposed budget.
Richard Pembroke, CFO of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, told the School Board on Wednesday that the new budget, if approved by the voters, would mean an increase of $68 in property taxes for a home valued at $100,000.
The board spent more than 45 minutes discussing possible changes to the budget at their meeting Wednesday. School Board member Paul Becker, who was on the board when the last budget was created, and member Kelly Kennedy, who was elected in March, identified a number of places where they thought reductions might be possible.
Becker said he recognized that some of the suggestions he made were not large enough figures to make a large change in the budget but said he wanted to make sure the board had thoroughly reviewed all possible cuts. Other areas he identified were not places where he wanted to cut products or services but he said he thought it might be possible to ask vendors if they might be able to provide a better price.
However, after a lengthy discussion, Becker suggested they move forward with the budget as it had been proposed by the supervisory union’s business office so the board could move forward with a revote.
The budget presented to the Select Board had been reduced to about $12.9 million after the business office suggested a number of changes. Those changes were prioritized with the business office from the supervisory union putting music and art programs on the table for possible cuts.
However, those cuts were suggested with a warning that the business office didn’t recommend cutting the programs and the School Board did not cut the programs from the budget.
The School District had more success when members asked the supervisory union to look at cutting its assessment. At a meeting April 24, the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union School Board voted to accept changes which allowed the Bennington School Board to remove $281,970 from its budget.
Ken Swierad, chairman of the Bennington School Board, complained about the high costs related to special education at the April 24 meeting. He singled out the “Plus” program which has a three-to-one ratio between students and educators.
“What does it take? You need a one-to-one, a two-to-one to solve the kids’ problems? I think that we just spend too much money on programs like this. Yeah, they might be good but we just don’t have the money right now and Bennington’s paying for it,” he said.