Springfield approves both budgets; taps McNaughton
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | March 05,2014
SPRINGFIELD — Tears of joy. Or relief.
“I’m going to cry,” School Board Chairwoman Jeanice Garfield said Tuesday night as Town Manager Robert Forguites and Town Clerk Barbara Courchesne announced that both town and school budgets had been approved by comfortable margins.
In years past, Springfield has been the unfortunate poster child of school budget defeats, but this year it bucked the statewide trend and approved a $27.4 million budget that had been cut by $1 million.
Springfield voters also endorsed the $10.7 million town budget, as well as electing new Selectman George McNaughton in a three-way race. All other races were uncontested.
Voters re-elected Selectman Kristi Morris and tapped McNaughton over veteran board member Michael Knoras.
Morris, the current board chairman, received 1,028 votes. McNaughton wasn’t far behind with 992 votes and Knoras trailed with 606 votes.
The school budget passed by more than 200 votes, 861-658. The School Board had cut close to $1 million from the proposed budget in January, knowing that voters would not accept a significant tax increase, Garfield said.
The board cut 21 positions in the school system: teachers, maintenance, clerical and para-professionals. They were hard decisions, she said.
Garfield said the budget as approved will result in a tiny tax increase, less than 1 percent.
She quickly emailed the results to other board members and Superintendent Zach McLaughlin, and hugged fellow board member Steve Karaffa, who said the Springfield schools had lost 100 students in overall enrollment since 2000.
This year was different, Garfield said, with the leadership of McLaughlin, who is in his first year as superintendent. He was forced to come up with $1 million in cuts in January to the proposed budget.
“We are thrilled, thrilled, with the town’s support,” she said.
The town budget had a slightly larger margin of victory, 895-609. Morris, who along with Garfield and four out of the five Select Board members, waited at Riverside Middle School for the results.
He said he was pleased with the support of the town budget, but not surprised at the number of negative votes.
McNaughton, who had previously served on the School Board several years ago, said he was ready to get to work.
“Well, it was fun,” he said of the race. “Now the work starts. We have a lot to do to turn the town around and get the neighborhoods organized.”
McNaughton, a Springfield lawyer, said another priority was focusing on economic development, relying in part on Springfield Regional Development Corp. and Springfield On The Move to do some of the work, with the Select Board and town manager doing their part.
“We’ve been talking about economic development for years now. Our first priority should be to try and facilitate filling the empty buildings downtown,” he said, admitting he had tried to talk some “young people” into running for the board, rather than himself.
Morris, who said he hoped to remain chairman of the Select Board, said he looked forward to working with McNaughton, despite the latter’s criticism of the current board.
“I think the board can work with anyone,” Morris said. “We really don’t dictate. We can work with him.”
He said he was surprised at Knoras’ defeat. “Mike’s been popular and he has a good following,” Morris said.
“People are perhaps looking for change,” he added, saying the board would hold its reorganizational meeting within the week.
In other voting Tuesday, voters turned down a proposal to exempt the first $75,000 of value of a new home from property taxes for three years. The vote was 796-691.
Voters approved tax exemption for property at 15 Pine St. owned by Southeastern Vermont Community Action. The property is used as a preschool. The vote was 836-658.
Elected to a three-year term on the School Board was Ed Caron with 1,327 votes. Bill Harbeson did not seek re-election. Also elected was Steve Karaffa with 1,276 votes for a one-year term.
Karaffa had been appointed to the board last year to fill the unexpired term of former chairman Scott Adnams, who moved to Texas.