Mascoma Proposes Budget Decrease

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, February 26, 2018

Voters in the Mascoma Valley Regional School District will elect two School Board members, two Budget Committee members and vote on a budget and other warrant articles on Tuesday, March 13.

Polls open at 8 a.m. in Grafton at the town’s fire station, and at the same time in Canaan at Canaan Hall. Polls will also open at 8 a.m. in Enfield at Whitney Hall. Polls open in Orange and Dorchester at 11 a.m. in the Dorchester Town Hall and Orange Town House. All polls close at 7 p.m.

West Canaan — Mascoma Valley voters will decide whether to approve a slight decrease in spending and an adjustment to how towns are charged for school services when they go to the polls next month.

The Mascoma Valley Regional School District is proposing a $27.2 million budget for the 2018-19 school year, which amounts to a 1.1 percent, or roughly $300,000, decrease from the current year’s budget.

If that proposal is rejected by voters in the five member towns, the district would adopt a $27.8 million default budget, which is roughly $276,000 more than the current year’s spending plan.

“I’m very impressed with our staff and administration coming in with a tight budget,” said School Board Chairwoman Cookie Hebert. “We’re trying to hold the line on just about everything.”

Much of the proposal is level-funded from the budget teachers and administrators are working under this year, said Debra Ford, the district’s business administrator.

The few changes proposed are largely the result of fixed cost increases, such as health care and retirement, she said.

The district will maintain its current staffing levels under the proposal, which includes an additional $253,000 approved by voters last year as part of a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the Mascoma Valley Regional Education Association.

Bond payments for the $21.5 million renovation and expansion of Mascoma Valley Regional High School are expected to remain flat at $1.3 million, according to the budget.

However, voters shouldn’t expect similar budgets in the future, warned Ford.

More money will be needed to fund special education and infrastructure improvements, she said, adding the district can only rely on capital reserve accounts to stem emergencies for so long.

“I think the budget has what we need to educate the students and maintain the facilities for next year,” she said, “but I wouldn’t expect that we would be able to level fund the budget every year going forward.”

Voters also will be asked to approve a warrant article that would change how each of Mascoma’s towns — Canaan, Dorchester, Enfield, Grafton and Orange — are billed for school services.

The district bill is now divided among the five communities based on their yearly enrollment numbers.

For instance, if Enfield children were to make up 40 percent of Mascoma’s student population, that town’s taxpayers would be expected to contribute 40 percent of the funding coming from the towns.

However, school officials argue the formula can create tax spikes in the smaller towns, such as Orange or Dorchester, where just a few children moving to town can greatly increase costs.

To remedy the situation, a committee formed last year proposed calculating funding based on a three-year enrollment average.

Ford said it will be difficult to estimate the proposed budget’s tax impact until the warrant article is either approved or fails.

“Because the budget is less than the default budget, I would expect that each towns taxes would be reduced,” she said, adding no one will know for sure until the state Department of Revenue Administration releases the tax rate in the fall.

Residents will also see several warrant articles asking to fund the district’s capital reserve accounts.

Articles call for $100,000 to be raised for Mascoma’s facilities reserve fund, $50,000 for a special education fund and $25,000 toward a computer fund.

Money for each is expected to come from the district’s existing fund balance rather than new taxes.

On the ballot, voters will be asked to decide one contested race for a seat on the district’s budget committee.

Incumbent Philip Smith is running for another three-year term for a Canaan seat on the committee.

He is being challenged by Eleanor Davis, chairwoman of Canaan’s town budget committee.

Also running for re-election to the committee is Daniel Kiley, who is unopposed for an Enfield seat.

School Board Vice-Chairman Timothy Josephson is running unopposed to represent Canaan for another three years, and Bridget Labrie has no challengers to an Enfield seat being vacated by Bob Cusick.

Bonnie Haubrich is unopposed on the ballot for another term as school district moderator, and Kamala Tupper is the sole candidate running for district clerk.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223