Royalton Approves School Budget

South Royalton — Following nearly two hours of debate and a narrowly defeated attempt to level-fund the proposed school budget, Royalton residents last night approved a spending plan that is increasing by almost 2.3 percent over the current fiscal year.

The $6.2 million budget, which covers funding and expenses for the town’s pre-kindergarten to high school program, passed by paper ballot, 60-46.

Assuming a state base tax of 94 cents per $100 of assessed value, that means a new homestead school tax rate of $1.50 and a $3,750 tax bill on a $250,000 home, up $300 from the current year.

The final number proposed by the School Board last night was $18,000 less than the amount listed in the warning, thanks to a lower-than-expected increase in health insurance costs that the board secured in recent weeks. And School Board Chairman Geo Honigford was quick to point out that the 2.3 percent increase is well below the state average and the lowest in the Orange-Windsor Supervisory Union, which could see an average increase of 5.9 percent.

Much of the added spending was unavoidable, he said, as it stemmed from increases to those health insurances rates, which jumped nearly 11 percent, and sizeable jumps to technology costs and building and grounds expenses.

Salaries remained roughly level, and the school is working to fill only four of its five vacant positions, putting savings toward an increased language program and initiating a move to provide students with laptop computers.

But that didn’t quell many residents’ concerns about the growing budget, several of whom questioned whether the board had looked at the budget as critically as needed.

“I came tonight because for 15 years I’ve lived in this community and supported the school, (and) every year, the budget, it’s raised. I understand inflation, but there comes a point where I think we have to say enough is enough, and I think we have to start looking at where we can make other cuts,” said resident Sandy Conrad, who early in the meeting proposed an amendment that would have kept the budget level from the current fiscal year at about $6 million, a difference of nearly $137,500.

Conrad, an executive director with the Council on Aging who has seen her own budget slashed, said she understood the difficulty in coming up with a balanced budget, but lamented that seniors were “getting taxed out of their homes” and children could not afford to come back to build houses and raise families in town.

Conrad’s motion was narrowly defeated by paper ballot, 56-50.

Several residents sharply questioned the board’s yearly contract with a private company to maintain the parking lots and playing fields at the high school, including plowing, ice removal, mowing and lining athletic fields. The contract with Todd Holmes Landscape, which the board began for the first time this year, expires at the end of the fiscal year in June, and the board has allotted $48,000 for the upcoming fiscal year, up from $6,000 approved during the current fiscal year.

While Honigford acknowledged that $48,000 represents an increased cost for that maintenance, he said it’s not as big a jump as the budget makes it appear: The school previously used a variety of sources to fund and perform that maintenance, Honigford said, including paying the town and a now-retired custodian.

Despite criticism from voters, several residents also thanked the board for their work in trying to keep the budget down. Honigford said he understood residents’ concerns but was pleased that the budget passed.

“I don’t have a solution, I just know that every school in the state’s budgets are going up, and we went up half the rate everybody else did, so we’re doing our due diligence,” he said. “I understand that people are getting to the breaking point, but I just don’t see where we can pull it from without impacting the education that we give our kids. With this budget we’re going to be able to maintain and increase what we do for our kids, so I feel really good about this budget passing.”

Elsewhere on the warning, voters easily approved allowing the board to transfer up to $50,000 from any general fund balance at the end of the current fiscal year to the Building Reserve Fund, and to transfer about $21,000 from the Transportation Reserve Fund to the Building Reserve Fund.

Town Meeting starts at 10 a.m. today in the high school auditorium, with Australian ballot voting from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.

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Royalton Residents Cut School Budget

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

South Royalton — Pushing back against higher taxes, a gymnasium packed with roughly 350 residents voted last night to cut the school budget for the 2014 school year, overturning the initial budget vote from the March Town Meeting. The amended $6.0 million budget, which was proposed by resident Sandy Conrad and aims to level-fund the upcoming school year’s spending budget, …