Monkton Central School board listens to community, mulls options for new budget

MONKTON — As the Monkton Central School board works on a new spending plan to put before voters, it is soliciting input from the community.
“We’re hopeful that we can find the path to the budget that’s going to be acceptable to voters by getting input from the community,” board member Marikate Kelley said late last week after the board’s Thursday evening school board meeting.
Monkton residents on Town Meeting Day rejected a $2.82 million spending proposal for Monkton Central, 231-178. That sum was 9.3 percent higher than the budget for the current fiscal year.
The Monkton board was the third Addison Northeast Supervisory Union deliberative body to meet last week to decide how to draft a new budget for their respective schools. Also on Town Meeting Day ANeSU voters rejected the budgets for Bristol Elementary School and Mount Abraham Union High School.
The Monkton board has not yet decided what course of action to take. Monkton school board member Bob Radler declined to discuss Thursday’s meeting, but said the board is actively seeking ways to get information to all of the registered voters in Monkton in a timely manner.
About 20 people attended the meeting this past Thursday, and some shared with the board their opinions about the budget proposal that failed.
Kelley said that often when voters reject a school budget proposal, it’s because the cost is too high. But based on feedback the Monkton school board has received from residents, cost is not the only reason voters said “no.” The proposed budget would have cut staff positions from the school, which some residents opposed.
“It may be that the community wants us to spend more,” Kelley said, stressing the importance of receiving as much feedback from Monkton residents as possible.
Megan LaRose of Bristol conducted an online survey of residents in all five ANeSU towns that sheds light on what voters were thinking in the ballot box. The anonymous poll asks respondents how they voted on their elementary and Mount Abe budgets, and to explain why.
In results through March 9 provided to the Independent, 40 of the respondents indicated they live in Monkton. Twenty-four said they voted against the first budget proposal, while 16 supported it.
Residents detailed a litany of reasons behind their vote. Some were concerned about increasing education taxes.
“Property taxes are simply too much for the return we are getting,” one person wrote. “Consolidation is going to be the key to the future of the Vermont public education system.”
Another respondent echoed that sentiment, and questioned the district’s staffing priorities.
“Property taxes in Monkton have skyrocketed in the last couple of years,” the person said. “I … am at a loss to understand why the SU is adding staff when front-line staff at the school is being reduced?”
A different Monkton voter suggested that the supervisory union look to cut costs in areas that would not affect students directly, such as within the district office.
“There are too many paid positions within ANeSU that, if eliminated, would have much less impact on the students,” the respondent reasoned.
That person added his or her belief that the proposed staff cuts in the first budget draft had a negative impact on the morale of the Monkton Central staff.
“Nobody feels valued and respected: Teachers, educational assistants, even principals!” the respondent said.
The Bristol and Mount Abraham school boards are eyeing budget revotes sometime this spring. Kelley said that while it would be convenient for Monkton voters to weigh in on proposed elementary and high school budgets on the same day, the Monkton Central School board will not rush through the budget process just to make that happen.
“In terms of cost, if we can all vote at the same time, we will save (money),” Kelley said. “We also want to make sure our process allows us to get community feedback.”
Kelley said the board is tentatively planning to meet March 31 to discuss the new budget and listen to residents’ concerns, and that the board does not at this time have a timeframe in mind for a new budget vote. The next regularly scheduled board meeting is April 9.
Concurrent to the budget process, the MCS board is also searching for a new principal to helm the school.
The board hired current principal Betsy Knox last year on an interim basis, and is now seeking candidates to lead the school permanently. Her predecessor, Susan Stewart, took a one-year unpaid leave of absence from the school, during which she decided not to return.
Kelley said the ANeSU has just posted the vacancy, so the board has not yet begun to vet candidates.
The board has created a search committee, which includes community members, and also set a timeline for when candidates will visit the school, and also speak with interested students, parents and Monkton residents. The committee will consist of one community member, two school board members, a staff member, a faculty member and a special education coordinator, Kelley said.
Kelley said the board plans to complete the hiring process by the end of the school year. Typically, school administrators start at the beginning of a new fiscal year, which is July 1.
Knox told the Independent Friday that she plans to throw her hat in the ring.

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