Rivendell District’s Budget Approved

Orford — In an efficient hour-long meeting, voters from the four communities of the Rivendell Interstate School District approved a budget of $9.8 million from the gym floor at Rivendell Academy on Tuesday evening.

Also by voice vote, attendees said ‘yes’ to a $50,000 allocation for a capital reserve fund.

The 2015 budget includes an increase of $165,000, or 1.7 percent over the current year’s spending. Over the past six years, RISD’s budget has increased by an average of 1 percent per year, School Board member Bruce Lyndes said.

“I don’t know of any other district that can boast of such low increases,” Lyndes asserted.

Over the course of those same six years, revenues have diminished by $500,000, the Board’s Vice Chairman Mark Avery told the crowd.

“Sometimes it’s frustrating not to be able to control everything,” he said.

Factors contributing to this year’s increase include new contracts for teachers, support staff and some administrators. For example, teachers at the top of the pay scale received raises of 2 percent and Superintendent Brenda Needham received a 3 percent bump, she said at the meeting.

Rising health and dental insurance premiums, energy and transportation costs also contribute to the district’s expenses.

With the approval of the budget and capital reserve fund, the owner of a $200,000 property can expect to pay $3,960 in annual school taxes in Orford; $3,918 in Vershire; $3,746 in West Fairlee; and $3,658 in Fairlee.

On Tuesday, Tom Thomson, of Orford, inquired as to the cost of a family health insurance plan offered to school employees.

“We know this is one of the largest issues out there,” he said.

Needham did not have exact figures on hand, but estimated the total cost to be about $17,000. She added that most employees pay 15 percent of the premium, while the district pays the remaining 85.

“We want our kids to get the best education they can, but at the same time, I don’t want their grandparents having to be run out of (these) communities,” said Thomson.

The role of the technology coordinator, a $64,000 line item, drew a question from Orford resident Jim McGoff.

“What do they actually do?” he asked.

The district now owns and maintains more than 400 computers, said Director of Information Technology Hank Plaisted.

“The use of technology in schools has risen dramatically,” he said.

The district’s investment in technology is also rising.

The budget for technology equipment is slated to go up $82,000 next year, an increase of 28 percent over the current year, the annual report indicates.

Enrollment was not a major factor driving costs this year. Overall, the district’s enrollment is down from 517 in 2010-11 to 486 as of Jan. 31, but it is up slightly from last year’s 482.

The slight enrollment increase is projected to continue next year, bringing the district’s total to 492.

The reserve fund, to which voters added $50,000, will help expand the resources available in the case of an emergency, such as a broken boiler or a leaky roof, at one of the district’s three schools — Rivendell Academy in Orford, Westshire Elementary in West Fairlee and Samuel Morey Elementary in Fairlee — Needham said.

The fund is part of the district’s aim to “be strategic about the future,” she said. Prior to Tuesday’s vote, it held $127,000.

At the polls, there were no contested races.

School Board incumbents Bruce Lyndes, of Fairlee, David W. Ricker, of Orford, Kathy Hooke, of Vershire, Sarah Rinehimer, of West Fairlee, and Katherine Blanchard, of Orford, all retained their seats.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.