Windsor Voters Wary
School Cuts and Layoffs Raise Concerns
Windsor K-12 Theater Arts teacher Julie Aylward looks out from her office to watch the Windsor Town Meeting in the auditorium of Windsor High School yesterday. If the proposed school budget goes through, the daytime theater program — and Aylward’s job — will be cut at the end of the school year. Aylward, who has run the theater program since 1997, is a year away from retirement. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Moderator Martha Davis moderates her final Windsor Town Meeting in the auditorium of Windsor High School yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Windsor — Voters were not too keen about the nearly $1 million worth of cuts, which include teachers and staff layoffs, proposed by the School Board in the Windsor school district budget.
Ninety-three of Windsor’s 3,101 registered voters showed up for last night’s Town Meeting and information session to discuss the municipal and school warnings. The proposed cuts to the school budget drew the most discussion.
The school district has run a $400,000 deficit over the past several years, which has been exacerbated by dwindling enrollments and a rise in health care costs. The district is looking to cut a combined total of 12 staff members including three paraeducators, two members of the support staff, a nurse and a social studies and kindergarten teacher. A formal drama program would be eliminated, but afterschool plays and performances would go on. The cuts would also include funds for field trips and supplies.
In all, the cuts total about $1.2 million.
Voter Sherrie Greeley called the cuts a losing proposition that would hurt children as well as the community at large. She argued that a school system that doesn’t offer things such as drama, reading specialists and the like, deters new people and businesses from moving into town.
“These cuts will damage the reputation of Windsor schools,” Greeley said. “If this budget passes, everybody loses.”
No one at last night’s information session spoke in favor of the cuts. Those who spoke argued that the cuts were counterproductive. The reasoning was if the district is in the hole mainly because of declining enrollments, why make the district less desirable by taking away popular programs. Several residents also argued that not everyone is interested in sports and they need alternative outlets.
School Board chairwoman Amy McMullen said the board was trying to make cuts that would preserve the programs that affected the most students. And Windsor Principal Michael Kell said officials would have to sell potential tuition students from outside the district on the fact that they are beefing up core programs.
Despite the cuts, the $9.15 million budget is 2.4 percent higher than fiscal year 2013. If the budget is approved, the proposed tax increase will be 7 cents per $100 of valuation. For a property assessed at $200,000, that would add about $140 to the annual tax bill. If the cuts aren’t made, according to school officials, the tax rate would increase by about 30 cents per $100.
Should the budget fail, district officials believe they will have to make even further cuts to keep the district running. And should the district not have anything in place by the end of the fiscal year, the district will have to operate on 87 percent of its current budget, which would likely force another $1 million in cuts.
Selectman Clayton Paronto said he hopes the budget fails so that the School Board has to come up with a better plan.
“Bring us a program that shows us the future,” he said. “Not just cutting and tearing down what we have now.”
McMullen said the district will be conducting an exit poll today asking voters whether they voted for the budget. For those who voted against the budget, the poll asks if that is because it is still too high or because the cuts were unacceptable. In the event the budget does fail, she said, the board will have some guidance from voters.
As for the municipal budget, if approved it will establish a five-year capital funding plan for infrastructure improvements.
The proposed general fund budget totals $4.5 million, not including funding for separate agencies that appear on the Town Meeting warning. That number is an increase of $487,506 from the current fiscal year.
If all spending on the Windsor Town Meeting warning is approved, the municipal tax rate would increase by just over a penny to $1.16 per $100 of valuation, resulting in a $23 increase in municipal taxes on a property assessed at $200,000.
Voters will also be asked to pass a $2 million bond to pay for town water and sewer system repairs. Town Manager Tom Marsh explained last night that initial cost of the repairs came in at a range of $12 million to $14 million. But after having another engineering firm do a peer review on the report that generated the first estimate, the facility only needs about $7 million in repairs. The rest of the repairs will happen over the next few years.
Should the voters pass the article, the first $2 million bond would go toward critical repairs in the plant. Voters likely wouldn’t see an increase in their bills until 2016, and then, Marsh said, it would only be an increase of about 3 or 4 percent.
There are no contested races for either the Selectboard or School Board. Rich Thomas, who owns Paradise Sports, is running unopposed for a three-year seat currently held by Selectman Larry Dougher, who is stepping down. Selectboard Vice Chairman Clayton Paronto is unopposed for his two-year seat.
As for the School Board, incumbents Jesse Tyler and Carl Malikowski are running unopposed for a three-year and a two-year term, respectively. Voting today will be held by Australian ballot from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Windsor Municipal Building.