Voters reject both parts of VUHS multiple choice budget proposal

VERGENNES — Addison Northwest Supervisory Union voters on Tuesday sent two VUHS budget articles down to defeat for the second time in 2015, one by a close margin and one by a landslide.
A $10.31 million proposal to fund the high school, and which cut $156,000 from the budget defeated on Town Meeting Day, lost 722-676 or 51.6-48.4 percent.
A second article, one that could have only taken effect if the first article had passed, would have added that $156,000 back into VUHS spending. It failed by 843-556, or 60-40 percent.
Superintendent JoAn Canning said the presence of the second article on the ballot — added by the VUHS board in a March meeting in a surprise move — might have contributed to the budget setback, both by creating some confusion and also by leading some residents to vote against the first measure to ensure the second article could not succeed.
“The second vote is possibly one of the culprits,” Canning said. “I have heard informally it’s about the two articles. It was confusing.”
The revote was made necessary when on March 3 ANwSU voters rejected the board’s first $10.47 million plan, 831-718.
Even the $10.31 million plan would increase VUHS spending by $900,000. But school officials say their hands are tied, at least in part, due to inadequate budgeting practices by previous administrations.
For example, increases include about $256,000 toward retiring the $768,419 deficit that VUHS is carrying from this past school year, a shortfall largely due to several years of inadequate special education and transportation budgeting.
The budget also includes about $439,000 in higher anticipated spending on special education; officials said that figure represents a more realistic estimate of those costs.
They also said a number of items went unbudgeted in the current spending plan, such as transportation, one teacher’s salary, and continuing education for teachers. The total of all unaccounted-for items came to $300,000, according to Principal Stephanie Taylor, and the new budget proposal is more realistic.
The school has already cut the equivalency of about seven full-time teachers in the past two years, including three in the budgets proposed for the 2015-2016 school year.
Canning said on Wednesday she would recommend to the board a somewhat lower budget proposal, but not further teaching cuts.  
“My preliminary thought on how to proceed is to have a slight reduction in the budget. We can’t cut more staff. I’m going to be really clear with the board on that. We won’t be able to offer AP classes. In the next step if we consider staff it will have a significant impact on student programs,” Canning said. “I’m going to recommend some slight reductions in non-personnel costs, and recommend that we not have a second article and continue to try to educate the public.”
Canning said she would meet with Taylor later this week or early next week to start working on a new plan to recommend to the board, which she hopes can meet as early as Monday, May 11.
She also hopes to schedule another vote on June 2 or June 9, before the end of the school year on June 16.
“My recommended goal would be to get a budget out for a vote before students leave for summer vacation. I think after that time we may lose some families,” Canning said.
ANwSU officials had estimated that if the $10.31 million figure was approved without the second article, ANwSU homeowners not eligible for prebates could have expected school tax increases of 5 cents in Waltham, 7 cents in Addison and Ferrisburgh, and 8.5 cents in Panton and Vergennes.
But those estimates assume a 2-cent hike in the statewide education tax rate from 98 cents to $1. That increase may not happen. State lawmakers are now eyeing plans that call for retaining the 98-cent rate, meaning lower increases in school taxes could be in store.
Local lawmakers last week said the situation in Montpelier remains fluid, but Canning is cautiously optimistic.
“I do think that could work in our favor,” Canning said. “We’ve been really careful in not talking about that too much, because we expect that information to come out by the end of May. We do anticipate a positive effect for taxpayers. But until it becomes final, it’s too hard for conjecture.”
In voting on Tuesday, Ferrisburgh (324-253) and Waltham (58-42) supported the $10.31 million VUHS spending article.
Vergennes (266-181), Addison (101-77) and Panton (60-36) voted no.
Only Waltham favored the additional $156,000, 53-45. The tallies against were Addison, 115-66; Ferrisburgh, 320-257; Panton, 70-25; and Vergennes, 292-154.
In reaching the $10.31 million budget level, the board made a series of cuts, including:
•  Asking the school’s maintenance department to do lawn care and snow removal;
•  Repaying a food service deficit over a longer period;
•  Cutting Walden program materials and transportation;
•  Reducing extra-curricular costs, and cutting supplies, textbooks and fuel for drivers’ education, which has seen a drop in enrollment.
The board had already proposed spending reductions in the initial $10.47 million budget that included cuts of a full-time math teacher, a 60-percent science job, a 50-percent English position, and 33-percent reductions in art, music, French and drivers’ education jobs. Taylor said in March that French was being phased out because of the budget cuts.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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