All county school budgets OK’d

ADDISON COUNTY / BRANDON — The only time the “No” votes carried the day in voting on area school issues on Town Meeting Day was the rejection in Orwell of a school unification plan. Otherwise, it was all “Yes” for Addison County and Brandon schools as all education budget proposals were approved.
Voters in the three new unified union school districts that were approved last year — Addison Northwest School District, Addison Central School District and Otter Valley Unified Union School District — all OK’d district wide, K-12 spending plans for the first time. In addition the elementary and high school budgets in Addison Northeast also carried the day, and the education spending plans in Granville and Hancock were approved by voice votes.
Residents of the Addison Central, Addison Northeast and Addison Northwest school districts also threw their support behind a proposed 2017-2018 Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center budget of $3,482,549. Residents voted4,176 to 1,397 in favor of the budget, which reflects a 1.39-percent decrease in spending compared to this year.
Headquartered in Middlebury, the Career Center delivers vocational and technical education to students in 17 Addison County towns.
Addison Central Supervisory District (ACSD) voters overwhelmingly approved their first-ever unified, K-12 budget on Tuesday by a 1,363 to 466 margin.
The $37.2 million spending plan reflects $30,428,802 in net, local education spending for the ACSD schools serving Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge. That’s around 2.17-percent less than what was budgeted for the combined ACSD schools this year.
“The strong voter support for the ACSD is truly amazing and a nice vote of confidence in the direction we are headed,” ACSD board Chairman Peter Conlon said of the budget vote.
Peter Burrows, superintendent of ACSU schools, also thanked voters for their support of the consolidated spending plan.
“I am overwhelmed by the commitment of our ACSD community to educating our students,” he said. “In our inaugural ACSD budget, our communities resoundingly voted to support the work of our staff, teachers, administrators, and board in providing exceptional learning opportunities for our students. We are at a time of much positive change with a new unified board, becoming an International Baccalaureate World District, and continuing to work to engage all students in being prepared for life in a rapidly changing world. I look forward to working together in our new ACSD community to maintain and grow our commitment to education and our students.”
ACSD voters on Tuesday also voted 1,374 to 432 to place $482,000 in surplus funds into a capital reserve fund to make improvements to ACSD school properties. And they voted 1,484 to 314 in favor of an article seeking permission to make future ACSD annual reports available electronically, instead of automatically sending them to all addresses in the seven member towns.
Elected to the ACSD board in uncontested elections were Suzanne Buck of Bridport, three years; Jennifer Nuceder of Salisbury, three years; Marty Gill and Victoria Jette, both of Middlebury, each for three-year terms; and James Malcolm of Middlebury, two years.
Residents of the five communities of the Addison Northwest School District backed the first-ever unified union budget of $21,116,289 by a 924-699 tally, or 57-43 percent.
Residents of Ferrisburgh, Vergennes and Waltham gave solid support to a plan that supports the four ANWSD schools and its central office, plus the district’s share of the Career Center budget. Panton and Addison voters went against the proposal, but by close margins.
The budget calls for a 1.68 percent increase over current district-wide ANWSD spending spread over four separate budgets, but is slightly less than the 2015-2016 district spending total of $21,159,752.
Residents in all five communities also approved creating a $100,000 capital reserve fund, using surplus funds that accrued to member towns according to the most recent audit. The overall vote was 1,008 to 608.
With the 10-cent discount from unification factored in, residents in Addison, Ferrisburgh and Waltham are expected to see significant decreases in their homestead property tax rates, while Panton will break roughly even and Vergennes could see a small increase.
 ANWSD Superintendent JoAn Canning described the spending plan as a “level-program budget,” one that would preserve teaching positions and educational programs but offer no new spending initiatives.
While grateful for the support, Canning said the budget would also give ANWSD administrators breathing room after a year of planning for the unification transition to tackle the issues — raised by some residents — of dealing with declining enrollment, teacher-student ratios and student performance.
“The reality is that we need to be clear about what the budget is about and how it’s going to affect taxpayers,” Canning said. “And so I’m just really excited about the fact that most people understood that, and we are going to be able to work together and think about a long-range plan to address some of the issues that have been raised about declining enrollment and class size, and the ways we might be able to improve outcomes for kids.”
There are new elements in the budget, including district-wide athletic and maintenance oversight jobs, and ANWSD officials are also working with Addison Northeast on a proposed food service merger.
“I’m appreciative of the vote, and I think this is a great opportunity for our district,” Canning said. “This lays the groundwork for us to be able to move forward as a unified district and for us to be able to see those efficiencies, and the ability to use resources in a different way.
Voters throughout the five towns of the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union approved the $12,261,839 Mount Abraham Union High School budget, 1,333-796 with all ballots commingled.
The Mount Abe spending represents an 8.42 percent decrease from the current academic year. That budget includes $1 million to fix the aging Mount Abe building.
The proposed spending plans for the five elementary schools in the towns of Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro also were approved by voters in those towns — the last time they will do so with a unified budget in the plans for next year.
Voters in the Otter Valley Unified Union School District approved the first budget of the merged district on Town Meeting Day, 635-438.
Voters in Brandon, Pittsford, Sudbury, Leicester, Whiting and Goshen approved the net education spending amount of $19,088,683, a 1.34 percent increase over current spending, or $251,000. Overall education spending per equalized pupil is up 1.4 percent, or $202.
The proposed budget included a reduction in staff of 4.8 full-time equivalent teachers and three aides.
Despite the increase, property taxes will drop because Act 46 has tax relief built in for districts that consolidated within a prescribed timeframe. The district got an eight-cent cut in property taxes over the current fiscal year. In the coming second year, the incentive is four cents, and the third year, it will be two cents. After that, the Act 46 property tax incentive ends.
Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Jeanne Collins said Tuesday night that informing voters a year in advance about preliminary budget numbers and community input helped achieve an approved budget.
“I’m very pleased and very grateful that we continue to have the support of our communities,” she said. “I think it was a very well thought out, balanced budget.”
Collins added that considered the task at hand in planning a successful merger in a timely manner, she is very happy with the budget approval.
“We were only up by 1.4 percent, and we’re covering seven schools and about 1,250 students, and we were able to reduce staffing,” she said. “Act 46 enabled us to reduce 2.4 staff positions and right-size our district.”

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