June 4, 2007
By MEGAN JAMES
BRANDON — A slightly slimmed-down version of Otter Valley Union High School’s proposed 2007-2008 spending plan, twice rejected by district voters this spring, will go before those voters again on Tuesday, June 12, for a third chance at approval.
Residents of the six Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union towns — Brandon, Goshen, Leicester, Pittsford, Sudbury and Whiting — will be asked to approve a $10,766,837 spending plan, which they would fund through $8,652,535 in local taxes. That tax figures represents a 0.32 percent increase from the current year’s $8,624,808 tax levy.
Voting will take place at regular town polling places and times, and any time before June 11 voters can pick up absentee ballots from their town offices or call their town clerks to have a ballot sent to them.
The OV school board trimmed $118,125 off the most recent spending proposal, which at $10,884,962 was defeated, 587-455, on May 8. The original $10,991,527 spending proposal was defeated on Town Meeting Day, 1,250-911.
According to school board Chairman Jim Rademacher, the bulk of the spending reduction came from personnel cuts, including the elimination of a current learning lab teacher position, whose salary, including benefits is $66,438, and the coordinator position for the Otter Achieving Success in School (OASIS) program, for $40,636.
Since there is only one OASIS coordinator, the program, which serves seventh- and eighth-graders with difficulties in school, will also be eliminated.
Rademacher, a Pittsford resident, noted that the most recently revised spending plan reflects five personnel cuts from the current year. In the budget put before voters on May 8, the school board had cut three positions: it decided not to replace English teacher Michael Dwyer, who is retiring, not to renew a half-time business teacher’s contract, and to eliminate a learning lab paraprofessional.
“Five is a big number,” Rademacher said. “With five less, students and parents will notice some changes in how services are provided next year. If we have to cut more, it’s not going to be good.”
In other cuts, the board redistributed special education expenses to save $10,612; rearranged staff scheduling to eliminate overtime for a driver’s education teacher, while also eliminating the high school woodshop program, for $6,375; canceled the Tuesday and Friday runs of the late bus that now runs five days a week, picking up students who have stayed late to work one-on-one with a teacher, for $5,461; and decreased the frequency of faculty council meetings for $3,600.
But the board also added a few items.
The 40-year-old school faces facilities problems the board had hoped to fix with its proposed $10 million bond, which was defeated on Town Meeting Day. The most urgent of those are the leaking roof and aging sewage system.
So sewn back into the revised budget is $7,500 to repair the roof and another $7,500 to add a weir pump to the sewage system, which will measure the volume of effluent from the sewage treatment plant, a procedure the state requires.
“I think our May vote was a wakeup call for many people,” said OV school board member Ellen Kurrelmeyer of Whiting. “Everyone thought they had lowered (the budget) enough that it would pass, so they just didn’t show. It’s everybody’s responsibility to go cast the votes.”
Since the last vote, the OV board held a couple community meetings in an effort to understand why voters have been so unsupportive. A few parents attended an initial presentation at OV outlining cuts officials were considering, and a small group showed up at another discussion in Pittsford.
“Both were small numbers of people, but that’s kind of the usual,” Rademacher said.
But Kurrelmeyer maintained the meetings weren’t enough. The board is still unclear on what exactly the voters want and why so few of them showed up to cast a ballot last month.
According to Kurrelmeyer, the Otter Valley Community Connection (OVCC), a group of school parents, compared the most recent district voter checklist to a directory of OV families and discovered that 100 parents are not registered to vote.
“There are 630 Otter Valley families,” she said. “If every one of those families had cast at least one vote in favor, we would have a budget.”
She and her husband, John Travis, have been attending OV sports events to pass out voter registration forms and wave signs that read, “The vote is coming!”
Only one student has approached her so far.
The OVCC will launch a phone campaign, calling voters in the days leading up to the vote to remind them to cast a ballot, and OV teachers plan to do the same with written letters.
Rejecting the budget another time would be costly for the town, not to mention an extra hassle, Kurrelmeyer said.
If the school doesn’t have an approved budget by June 30, it can borrow up to 87 percent of the current year’s budget from the state to use in the fiscal year that starts July 1. But that would still fall short of what OV needs, and the burden would fall upon taxpayers to pay it all back plus interest, Kurrelmeyer noted.
More cuts to the budget would almost certainly mean more personnel cuts, she said.
“If we have to go back and look at reworking this, it would be devastating,” she said.
In addition, the town’s tax bills would be delayed. Those bills may already be late because the state requires schools to wait a month after a positive vote, in case someone petitions the results, before submitting budget appropriations to towns.
But the most pressing reason to pass the Otter Valley budget is the students, board members agreed. Voters sent a cold message to OV students when they rejected the budget for the second time, Kurrelmeyer said.
“The kids get it. The kids understand what this means, it means the adults don’t support them,” she said. “And that’s why it’s so important to pass this budget. Our students and our young people need to know that we support them.”