Voters urge transparency as Mt. Abe board makes plans
BRISTOL — More than 50 Addison Northeast Supervisory Union voters packed the Mount Abraham Union High School library Tuesday evening to voice concerns to the school board about how to create a new budget proposal.
On Town Meeting Day voters in the five town area rejected the initial $14.06 million spending plan, 1,241–1,088. The board is working to put a new budget before voters later this spring.
The school board has not yet decided what changes will be made, including any potential staff or program cuts. Board chair Dawn Griswold did not return a Wednesday call asking for additional insight into the next steps.
The board is still in the process of soliciting public input on the budget process, an issue that several voters raised during the meeting.
Board member Bonita Bedard told the Independent on Wednesday the board is tentatively planning on an April 14 budget revote, the same date that the Bristol Elementary School board hopes to hold its budget revote. To meet that goal, the Mount Abe board, by state law, would have to warn the budget proposal by April 7.
But the high school board will not rush to complete a new budget proposal just to make that arbitrary goal, Bedard said.
“We still want to do some outreach and go through the process,” Bedard said.
The meeting Tuesday evening started at about 6:40 p.m., and because the agenda included an 8 p.m. appointment regarding a student matter that would require the board to enter executive session, board chair Dawn Griswold limited visitors’ comments to about 15 minutes total; board members could then move to other agenda items.
During that period six visitors weighed in on how the board should create a new budget proposal.
Parent Jeff Davis of New Haven said the board needs to hold a series of public forums where board members can engage in a dialogue with voters. If the board doesn’t, he predicted a repeat of Town Meeting Day.
“I can tell you this: The community will categorically reject any budget that does not come from that kind of process,” Davis said. “We’re asking for transparency and an honest conversation.”
Sally Ober of Lincoln said she has heard from her daughter, a high school student, rumors of teachers and programs that may be on the chopping block. Ober cautioned that even making small cuts to classes offered could have a large impact on students, offering the example of a student not being able to continue learning a foreign language after committing to it for several years.
“When we start cutting little bits of things, we leave students hanging,” Ober said.
Ober also echoed Davis’ call for more public input in the budget process.
“We need to have a public conversation about what you decide, how you cut,” she said.
Mount Abraham junior Henry Johnson read a prepared statement in which he urged the board not to cut staff involved in the personalized learning curriculum at the school. He explained that he had benefitted from those teachers, and warned that making cuts there would result in a “less immersive and less tailored education for students.”
Teacher Caroline Camara, who is one of the faculty who works with personalized learning, said Mount Abraham has been a model for the rest of the state, and it should not abandon its innovative approach to individualized curriculum.
“We have been allowed, and asked, to work in a way that blows apart the institution of education that we know now,” she said. “We are … pushing learners, educators and administrators forward in thinking about school as a new frontier.”
She said she recognized that the board has limitations in what it can and can’t do, but urged the body to fight for what she said makes Mount Abraham a great school.
“I am asking the board to put yourselves out there, to risk take,” Camara said.
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