S. Royalton Petition Seeks School Revote
Residents Want Budget Plan for Next Year Reconsidered
South Royalton — Voters Monday night could decide whether to cut the 2013-14 school budget after a group of frustrated residents petitioned for a reconsideration vote, hoping to ratchet back spending increases that were approved in March.
The $6.2 million spending plan, which represents a 2.3 percent increase over the current year’s, was approved 60-46 at the annual school meeting. As a result, the homestead school tax rate is expected to increase 12 cents, to $1.50 per $100 of assessed value.
The March vote came after nearly two hours of debate. A narrowly defeated amendment would have kept the budget level-funded , a difference of nearly $137,500.
Resident Sandy Conrad, who proposed the amendment during the annual school meeting, said she decided to ciruclate the petition to force a reconsideration vote after residents told her they wish they had attended the March meeting to close the six-vote gap that defeated her amendment.
She and a group of about 20 other residents opposed to the budget increase have been meeting regularly and gathering data, she said .
“We think that we can level fund the budget without catastrophic impacts to the school,” she said.
School Board members, however, say they’ve worked hard to limit budget increases and are working within a complicated funding stream set up by the state. Many of the increases — such as health insurance and other fixed costs — are simply beyond the board’s control.
“Basically, the role of the School Board is to walk a fine line, and balance giving our students an excellent education, upholding the community values and delivering a fiscally responsible budget to the voters, and I think we’ve done that,” Chairman Tim Murphy said.
A flier distributed by the School Board notes that members reviewed five drafts of the budget, and that while it increased by 2.26 percent, the statewide average was 4.65 percent.
“We totally understand that taxes have been going up and that people are feeling a pinch, we totally understand that,” said School Board member Geo Honigford. “We also know that if we cut significant sums off our budget, that programming in the school will suffer. There’s no fat in our budget that we can cut significant amounts of money and not have some kind of downturn in what we can offer our students. So we’re kind of in a rough place here.”
The reconsideration vote is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday in South Royalton High School’s small gymnasium. But before those in attendance have an opportunity to debate changes to the budget, they’ll first have to decide whether that’s a conversation worth having. A simple majority is needed to reconsider the budget.
If voters choose to reconsider, the new budget must also be approved by a simple majority.
Conrad said it would be the School Board’s job to identify where cuts, if approved, could be made.
“I think that that’s not our place to go into the weeds,” she said when asked what spending she would like eliminated. “Obviously, there are a lot of people who think there (is) a lot of fluff in our budget. I think it’s for us to say to them, ‘This is not a sustainable budget, it’s gotten out of hand, our student population has gone down, there’s got to be a better way to do it.’ ... It’s up to the School Board and maybe the principal and the (Orange West) Supervisory Union to decide what their priorities are.”
Murphy said that if voters choose to reconsider and vote in a budget less than the $6.2 million approved in March, the areas that could be trimmed are personnel, transportation, athletics, extracurricular programming, facilities and supplies.
Maggie Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3220.