Opinion: Mt. Abe board, ANeSU must be accountable to voters

In the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union district, I believe two elementary school budgets were defeated along with the Mount Abraham budget. Being a taxpayer in Bristol, I can only talk about what is happening in our town and my take on the high school budget.
I believe for those taxpayers that voted no on these two budgets it was more about personnel and program cuts and less about money. The elimination of these positions and programs were decisions made in a vacuum. Students, teachers and the public had no say and were blindsided. The budget process appears to start at the superintendent’s office with no transparency to the voting public.
It appears the difference in these two budgets from one year to the next was not a significant amount, but the number of positions being eliminated and some programs being eliminated one has to wonder where this funding is going. The principals are getting a 10 percent (plus or minus) raise. The superintendent’s office is adding staff. So, I guess you can draw your own conclusions.
On Monday night of this week, I sat through the majority of the Bristol Elementary Board (BES) meeting. In attendance were the five board members, note taker, camera person, and probably a dozen or so people from the general public. The non-board members spoke on issues that they deemed important. They asked questions and the board answered them as best as they could. As the board discussed how best to involve the taxpayers on a public hearing on the budget for their input prior to another vote, the general public in attendance offered suggestions and recommendations to guide the board for this public hearing. This was a productive and interesting meeting.
On the other hand, Mount Abraham Union High School board does not want to interact with the general public in attendance. In the most recent meeting during the visitors’ time, it was cut short probably because a previous meeting ran over by 10-15 minutes. So of the 50 or so in attendance only six-eight were permitted to voice their concerns. The board chair stated there was a full agenda and time was of the essence to address agenda items. One of those items was the budget. They cut the public off so not to receive any more negative comments on the reduction in staff and the elimination of programs.
To the best of my knowledge, the MAUHS board has yet to schedule any public hearings on a new budget. During the visitors’ portion of this meeting, you cannot ask questions, you can only make comments. I find it strange the taxpayers/constituents cannot interact with those they elected to this board. And I understand there was not time enough in this particular evening to allow each to speak, but six-eight is not a representation of this group.
All elementary schools and the high school are facing cuts, whether it is programs or personnel, but it doesn’t appear the offices of the superintendent or principals are losing staff. These institutions exist because of the students, not because of the administration.
My knowledge of the budget process is minimal at best, but with more transparency from the top we all could become smarter about the process. In the end, we still might have to make some cuts, but without the input of the taxpayers this process is only going to sour most voters.
I don’t have children in the school system, but I have owned a home in Bristol for over 40 years. It bothers me to hear so many negative comments around our district. On top of budget issues, I understand the teachers and administration are negotiating a new contract and that isn’t going well.
How do we attract new, young families into our school district with the problems we are facing now?
Ron LaRose

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