Mount Abe board adopts budget strategy

BRISTOL — The Mount Abraham Union High School board has laid out a timeline and strategy to draft a new budget proposal that could gain voter approval.
Addison Northeast Supervisory Union voters on Town Meeting Day rejected, by a tally of 1,241 to 1,088, a proposed $14.06 million spending plan to operate the school next year. That sum was slightly lower than the figure voters approved for the current year.
The school board at its March 17 meeting decided to hold a budget question-and-answer session with voters April 1 at 7 p.m. in the high school’s small cafeteria. In order to solicit information from voters unable to attend, the board has mailed postcards asking for feedback to ANeSU residents.
Board chair Dawn Griswold said the board does not yet know whether the new spending proposal will be higher or lower than the original one. That will be determined after the board evaluates the feedback it receives from voters.
Griswold said the board hopes to hold a new budget vote in April. If all goes smoothly, Griswold said, the new vote will be April 14, the same day the Bristol Elementary School board plans to schedule another vote for that school’s budget.
But if the Mount Abraham board needs more time, it will push the vote to a later date, Griswold said.
“(We) realize as we continue to gather information, it may become necessary to change our goal,” she said.
Griswold said voters have shared with the board numerous concerns about the budget and the process by which it is created, including the proposed staff cuts, transparency within the supervisory union budget and concerns about communication between the board and voters. Residents also said they’re worried about the impact of a new budget on their tax bill.
“I personally have heard from community members concerned about their taxes and being able to afford to continue to pay them as education taxes rise,” Griswold said.
Griswold said the board is trying to keep costs down without diminishing the quality of education students receive, all while grappling with falling enrollment.
“The most significant challenges for the board are a balance between improving education outcomes at an acceptable cost and the cost of education against the declining student population,” she said.
Griswold said that an ad-hoc committee working on a new proposal to renovate the Bristol school recommended to the board that it delay working on that project until voters pass a budget to run the school next year.
“Once we have an approved budget, we will get back to working on the future plan for Mount Abraham,” Griswold said.
This past fall, the Mount Abraham board proposed a $32.6 million bond to make substantial renovations to the school, which was built in the late 1960s. The bond would have been the largest ever in the history of Addison County.
On Election Day, ANeSU voters rejected the proposal by a margin of nearly 3 to 1.
After the shellacking, the school board formed a new committee to draft a new proposal to renovate the school. Griswold said the board does not presently have a timeline for a new bond vote. She said she has not heard any residents say the large bond proposal influenced how they voted on the high school budget proposal on Town Meeting Day.

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