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Tunbridge Easily Passes Higher School Budget

Tunbridge — The $3 million Tunbridge school budget sailed through as proposed last night in what turned out to be a brisk school meeting, even as the town adjusts to changes in special education being handed down from the state.

The fiscal year 2014 budget — which was up $191,813, or 6.7 percent, over the current year’s budget — passed by a vote of 71-26. The school tax rate under the new budget will be $1.34 per $100 of valuation for Tunbridge residents who don’t qualify for income sensitivity tax programs, or $2,680 a year in school taxes on a home assessed at $200,000.

Much of the rise in the budget can be attributed to the cost of secondary and special education, which have long been areas of concern in Tunbridge.

Tunbridge resident Blake Thomsen asked school representatives last night why special education costs were continuing to rise, despite the fact that special education has been consolidated at a district level in order to save costs.

Each of the five towns in the Orange Windsor Supervisory Union contribute to special education under a new formula that was initiated by Act 153, which passed the Legislature in 2010. The funding is now spread across all five towns and is weighted upon a two-year average to avoid spikes and dips in special education costs.

School Board Chairwoman Lorinda Oliver said that change accounted for last year’s rise in special education costs, and that this year’s rise can be attributed to an influx of students requiring special education, which she said was up by 10 percent.

“We still believe that in the long term this plan will benefit us and we’re going to see some reductions in the expenditures,” said Oliver.

Another resident, Tom Mullen, wanted to know why there was no projected carryover of surplus money in the budget, as has been typically seen in previous years.

That too was a result of the changes in special education, according to Oliver, who added that the rise in special education students actually hit the district this year. She said that, despite the mandate and change in funding special education, the town was unlikely to run a deficit, and was more likely to break even.

“We are not anticipating a surplus at this point in time but it’s because we’ve been providing additional services for special education students,” Oliver said.

Oliver told the Valley News last month that enrollment for the Tunbridge Central School has gone up this year, from 114 to 120 students, which she described as good news for the town.

After voting had concluded, Oliver thanked the 102 residents in attendance for supporting the school budget. She said that another challenge facing Tunbridge is the need to predict the amount of money to be put toward secondary education tuition costs, which were up $71,000 over last year.

Oliver said that a good way to smooth out the spikes and dips in secondary tuition costs would be to create a reserve fund, which she said would likely be on next year’s school warning.

In other business, Amy Frost was re-elected last night for her three-year seat on the School Board.

Tunbridge residents meet today at the school at 10 a.m. for Town Meeting.

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213