Addison Northwest residents reject VUHS budget

VERGENNES — Addison Northwest Supervisory Union voters said no on Tuesday to a $9.73 million dollar Vergennes Union High School budget proposal, 961-747.
If the budget had passed, it would have increased spending by about 2.4 percent.
But the VUHS budget’s tax impact was projected to be more dramatic, thanks to the school’s declining enrollment and a projected budget deficit of almost $548,000 that ANwSU officials said was due to unexpected special education costs.
Also, the expected 7-cent increase in the statewide property tax rate hike was projected to drive up all local school tax rates.
If all VUHS and ANwSU elementary school budgets had been approved on Tuesday, according to ANwSU estimates, district tax rate hikes would have ranged from about 13.5 percent in Vergennes to roughly 16 percent in Ferrisburgh, at least for the 35 or 40 percent of homeowners not eligible for property tax relief in each town.
Residents in all five towns voted against the budget, by substantial margins in Ferrisburgh — where voters also rejected the Ferrisburgh Central School budget for the first time in recent memory — and Panton, and by smaller margins in Waltham, Vergennes and Addison.
ANwSU voters also rejected by six votes a first-time proposal to start a capital fund of $50,000 that VUHS board members said was needed for the facility’s long-term maintenance, 902-896.
Residents of four towns supported that measure, but it lost overwhelmingly in Ferrisburgh to send it down to defeat.
The VUHS board will meet this coming Monday at 6:30 p.m. to begin planning its next move.
ANwSU Superintendent Tom O’Brien said officials did not necessarily have a fallback plan in place other than to come up with a new proposal and put it before voters as soon as feasible.
“Monday will be ‘Where are we and where do we want to go next?’” he said.
VUHS board chairman Kurt Haigis likewise had little to say about the board’s next steps.
“We’ll be meeting on Monday, and hopefully at that point we’ll set some direction,” he said.
O’Brien and Haigis declined to say if they had specific recommendations for cuts to a budget that will be further complicated next year by special education cost over-runs during the current school year.
Co-Principal Ed Webbley did not want to be overly specific, either, but acknowledged VUHS could probably not keep its current teacher-student ratio.
“We don’t have enough students to employ all our teachers anyway,” he said. “We’re going to have to make some adjustments by attrition.”
At the same time, Webbley said VUHS administrators hope the board will accept a middle road in making cuts given the level of support shown in most towns. 
“We don’t know what the board’s reaction will be. We’re queasy about it and don’t know if they will over-react,” he said. “It wasn’t the landslide we were fearing.”
Town by town, the vote against the budget went:
• Addison, 152-171.
• Ferrisburgh, 294-435.
• Panton, 37-64.
• Vergennes, 227-248.
• Waltham, 37-43.
Voting on the $50,000 capital fund proposal town-by-town went:
 • Addison, 165-152.
• Ferrisburgh, 352-476.
• Panton, 59-42.
• Vergennes, 274-198.
• Waltham, 46-34.
In high turnout in Ferrisburgh, voters defeated a $3.62 million FCS budget plan, 450-279. That budget called for an 11 percent increase, due in part to the FCS board’s proposal to add a new teacher and a modular classroom to help handle a large blended 5th- and 6th-grade class. Neither the FCS administration nor ANwSU officials endorsed that decision.
Complicating that vote was the fact that last years’ budget figure was printed on this year’s ballot. O’Brien said voters in Ferrisburgh were probably unhappy with that mistake as well as the combined projected 16-percent tax impact of both of the budgets.
The FCS and VUHS budgets were the only ones rejected in Addison County. Ferrisburgh has not defeated a central school budget during O’Brien’s 13-year tenure, and the town usually shows as much or more support for VUHS budgets than other ANwSU towns.
O’Brien noted the statewide trend of budget defeats. According to the Associated Press on Wednesday, at least 29 budgets were defeated statewide on Tuesday, six more than in 2013.
“In our local budgets and statewide it had to do with the tax rates,” O’Brien said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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