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Hanover, Norwich School Budgets Rise

Voting for Dresden, Hanover and Norwich school budgets will take place on Tuesday, March 4, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Hanover residents can vote at the Hanover High School gym and Norwich residents can vote at Tracy Hall.

Hanover — Voters in Hanover and Norwich are considering school spending proposals that include renovations to Hanover’s 45-year-old elementary school and special education costs are driving costs up the Dresden, Hanover and Norwich school districts.

Hanover school officials are hoping voters will support a nearly $5.8 million renovation to the Ray School that would include new roofing and energy saving insulation, improved heating and ventilation systems and add an extra classroom for full-day kindergarten.

The Ray School was built in 1969, and school officials say the building’s mechanical systems no longer effectively function. There can be a swing among classroom temperatures from eight to 10 degrees, Ray School Principal Matt Laramie said, and some classrooms have been below 55 degrees for three weeks at a time.

The renovation would include an upgraded fire alarm system and a new announcement system. Currently, if a teacher is on the phone, announcements in that room cannot come through. The school recently had a lockdown drill, and one class was unaware that the drill had started because it didn’t receive the announcement.

Improvement would also be made to the roof, which leaks above the library, six classrooms and the main office.

“It’s like an old car, you hope that if you just keep it maintained, everything will stay intact. But everything has a life to it,” Laramie said.

The renovation also calls for replacing two portable classrooms with two permanent classroom structures, and reconfiguring the parking lot and drop off area.

Full-day kindergarten is supposed to start this fall, and school officials are hoping to get the additional kindergarten classroom built in time for students to attend classes in August. But if the renovation doesn’t pass, Laramie said the extra class might have to be placed in a temporary space, such as a conference room.

“We don’t have an ironed out plan B, and our committee would have to come back together and weigh all the options,” Laramie said, adding that the building committee would regroup and develop another plan.

The Hanover Finance Committee unanimously supported the Hanover School District budget, but members voted 5 to 1 against the renovation. The committee argued that the renovation includes projects that could be safely delayed, modified or scaled down.

The 20-year bond shouldn’t cause a tax impact during the upcoming fiscal year, but starting in fiscal year 2016, school officials say taxpayers would likely see an impact of $68 on a $400,000 home.

Dresden School District

The $24.1 million Dresden budget , which includes Hanover High School and Richmond Middle School, is up 2.7 percent. More than half of the increase is due to special education costs, said Dresden School Board Chairman Carey Callaghan. The district plans to add 3.2 full-time equivalent special education assistants to Richmond Middle School and 3.35 special education assistants to the high school.

There is also a warrant article that asks the district to spend $225,000 to construct a softball field at the Dresden fields in Norwich. There is currently a baseball field at the Dresden fields, but the softball team plays at Huntley Meadows in Norwich, which is not comparable to what the baseball team has, Callaghan said. The inequity between fields was pointed out to the School Board by parents, Callaghan said.

The improvements will also include a covered pavilion.

“There are concerns that with lightning strikes, especially, that we don’t have an adequate safe place for students and coaches to take shelter,” Callaghan said.

Hanover Budget

The Hanover School District, which includes the Ray School, is proposing a $12.2 million budget, which is about $495,000 more than the current year, or a 4.2 percent increase.

Kevin Cotter, the Hanover School Board chairman, said one of the major cost drivers is full-day kindergarten, which will start in the fall. It will cost the district about $130,000 to add another teacher, along with other associated costs.

Special education costs are driving budget increases in all three districts. In the Hanover School District, special education costs are up about 18 percent and accounts for about $200,000 worth of the budget increase. This year, the district tried a new model in which it reduced the number of special education assistants from 24 to 17. However, the model didn’t pan out, and the district ended up hiring all the assistants that it had the previous year, plus more. For the upcoming budget, the district is budgeting for 21 special education assistants.

The tax rate for Hanover residents is estimated to increase by 56 cents to $12.26 per $1,000 of assessed value, which is nearly a 5 percent increase. That would make the school tax bill about $4,900 on a $400,000 home, about a $224 increase, including Dresden costs .

Norwich School District

The nearly $5.4 million Norwich School District budget, which includes Marion Cross School, is rising by $194,216, a 3.8 percent increase. The increase is mostly due to increased special education costs, Norwich School Board Chairman Neil Odell said.

The rest of the increase is mainly due to program maintenance items, such as salary increases for staff and about 5 percent increase in health insurance, among other factors.

Last budget season, the district planned on 304 students, but 326 students enrolled. The district is budgeting for 330 students for next fall, and plans to keep the 19 classroom teachers that are currently at the school.

The school district is expecting the tax rate to increase by about 10 cents to $1.84 per $100 of assessed value, which is about a 6 percent increase. That would make the school tax bill about $7,360 on a $400,000 home, a $420 increase, for Norwich residents who don’t qualify for Vermont’s income sensitivity program, including Dresden costs.

However, Odell attributed much of the increase on the tax rate to a 7-cent increase that is expected as part of Vermont’s statewide education tax rate.

“(The state) is saying despite declining enrollment, the districts continue to spend more and that forces the state’s hand to meet the state tax rate,” Odell said. “I would argue that’s not the situation that Norwich finds itself in. Our enrollment has actually been increasing over the last four years. I think we have developed a budget that offers the programming we need, but also takes into consideration the voters ability to pay.

T here are no contested school board races among the districts.

Each school district will have informational meetings prior to the district vote. The Dresden budget will be discussed at 7 p.m., Feb. 27 at the Richmond Middle School gym. The Hanover budget will be discussed at 1 p.m. on March 1 at the Richmond Middle School gym. The Norwich budget will be discussed at 7 p.m. on March 3 at Tracy Hall.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.