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Ferrisburgh school board to eye lower budget in April

FERRISBURGH — After discussion on March 18, the Ferrisburgh Central School board decided to ask Principal JoAnn Taft-Blakely and Addison Northwest Supervisory Union officials to come back at its April 10 meeting with a lower budget proposal to put before town voters.
That decision was made at the first FCS board meeting since its $3.62 million FCS budget proposal lost on March 4, 450-279, or about 62-38 percent. That defeat of an FCS spending plan is believed to be the first in the school’s history.
That budget called for an 11 percent spending increase, driven in part by a special education cost shift within ANwSU that in its first year had the effect of increasing special ed spending at ANwSU elementary schools and lowering it at Vergennes Union High School.
But the board also proposed adding a new teacher and a modular classroom to help handle a large blended 5th- and 6th-grade class, a move that neither Taft-Blakely nor ANwSU officials endorsed.
Adding to the budget problems on Town Meeting Day was a paperwork snafu: Ballots mistakenly presented the previous year’s $3.26 million budget. Several town officials had already predicted a budget defeat before the ballot mix-up, however.
Ferrisburgh residents also voted that day against the proposed $9.73 million VUHS budget, 435-294. Overall, that spending plan lost in the five ANwSU towns, 961-747.
The combined FCS and VUHS budgets would have led to an estimated 18 percent increase in Ferrisburgh’s residential tax rate, the largest within ANwSU.
Taft-Blakely said board members asked her, ANwSU Superintendent Tom O’Brien and ANwSU business manager Kathy Cannon to sit down and come up with a proposal that would mean “a 4 percent net increase in education spending,” half that proposed in their defeated spending plan.  
“We’ll come up with a menu of options to reduce the budget,” she said.
Cannon confirmed that the board reluctantly agreed with administrators to forego the board’s plan to add a classroom and a fourth teacher for the projected 57-member blended 5th- and 6th-grade class.
“They’re not happy about it, but they felt they had to take that out,” Cannon said. “They feel they do need another teacher, but because it was the last thing in, it should be the first thing out.”
Cannon said the new level of spending being discussed might add about $240,000 to the current school budget and bring the total spending proposal to around $3.5 million.
Much of that increase will be due to the special education cost shift, which comes with some revenue to offset the additional expense.
Cannon said the actual increase in net education spending FCS and ANwSU officials are discussing is closer to $115,000.
Coupled with the projected 7-cent increase in the statewide school property tax rate, the FCS increase being discussed could still add about 14 cents to the Ferrisburgh school tax rate, she said.
The budget defeated on Town Meeting Day would have alone added about 20 cents to the rate, Cannon said.
Homeowners eligible for income sensitivity provisions of Vermont’s school funding laws would not pay all of the increase. At least 60 percent of homeowners in Ferrisburgh are eligible for those provisions.
The VUHS board plans to meet Monday, March 24, at 6 p.m. in the VUHS library, and the session will be devoted solely to budget issues. Taft-Blakely said the FCS board hopes to hold its second vote on the same day as the second VUHS vote.  
“We don’t want people coming out at different times,” she said.
Taft-Blakely also hopes Ferrisburgh residents will come out and make their voices heard at the FCS board meeting on April 10.
“We absolutely encourage the public to come to that meeting,” she said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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