ANwSU schools mull late voting on spending plans

VERGENNES — As Addison Northwest Supervisory Union elementary school boards wrestled with budget challenges last week, they also began considering whether to move voting on their proposed spending plans from Town Meeting Day to a later date.
That idea, first suggested by Vergennes Union High School board member Neil Kamman on Jan. 4, gained traction at Vergennes Union Elementary, Ferrisburgh Central and Addison Central school board meetings later last week, said ANwSU Superintendent JoAn Canning.
“All of the boards are interested in delaying the votes,” Canning said on Friday.
There would be two benefits, according to ANwSU officials:
• When they voted on budgets, district residents would know whether the Town Meeting Day measure to unify ANwSU under one-board governance had passed. If it does, residents of the five ANwSU towns will receive a 10-cent tax break on their 2017-2018 property tax bills. Because this budget season is posing challenges (see related ANwSU budget stories), ANwSU officials believe residents would be more likely to support spending plans if they knew help was on the way.
• Residents would also know if the Legislature had acted to delay or revise the Act 46 provision that imposes a dollar-for-dollar penalty on schools with high per-pupil spending. If that provision is changed, it is possible projected tax rates for next year would be lower.
Under the existing law, ANwSU boards are finding it difficult to create budgets that don’t spike tax rates. The problems are mainly because of declining enrollment (particularly at VUHS and Ferrisburgh Central) and because of the deficit VUHS is carrying from previous years and a drop this year in state revenue to that school.
Canning said ANwSU boards want voters to have more information when they cast ballots, and board members also want to take time, in the run-up to March 1 balloting, to support what they feel is a critical unification vote and to continue to lobby Montpelier.
“They feel it might be a good strategy to focus on unification, and on the Legislature to repeal or remove the caps,” she said.
Canning said the process to delay annual budget balloting involves warning a vote at each school’s annual meeting for that purpose. If attendees at the annual meetings support a later date, then the budget votes can be moved, she said.
Because the outcome of those annual meeting votes cannot be predicted and because boards have not yet committed to asking for delays, Canning said ANwSU boards still must produce budgets by a Jan. 22 deadline for a potential March 1 vote.
“It’s not etched in stone yet, but it’s in serious conversation,” she said. 

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