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Sharon OKs School Increase

Sharon — Voters last night passed a school budget that carries with it a 10.7 percent increase over the current school year’s spending but turned down a $52,000 article for safety and security measures that many found to be unfocused.

The reason for defeating the security article, according to several residents who spoke at Sharon’s annual school meeting, was not because they were against increased safety for students at the prekindergarten through sixth-grade Sharon Elementary School.

“Before voting for this sum of money, I’d personally want to see a real plan in place,” said Brad Atwood, who is the chairman of the town’s Selectboard, “rather than this amorphous $52,000.”

The original plan, which emerged during School Board meetings following the Newtown, Conn., massacre in December, called for a security officer who would patrol the grounds of the school and town offices, School Board member Steve Gagliardone said. However, the board dropped that idea after further discussion, though it kept the $52,000 allotment alive.

“We just know that we’re probably not doing everything we can,” Gagliardone said, which prompted the board to bring the article in front of residents last night for debate.

Voters ultimately urged the School Board to come back next year with a more clearly delineated plan. A voice vote ended with just a handful of “yes” votes and nearly 100 “no” votes.

Principal Barrett Williams said that, since the shooting in Connecticut, the school has closed its open campus, requiring visitors to be buzzed into the building.

Town Clerk Debra St. Peter mentioned the possibility of installing panic buttons in the school, which appeared to go over positively among voters. The buttons are currently in use in the town hall, and though she’s only used hers once, the response was encouraging.

“The state police were there like that,” she said.

Regardless of the emotions behind the issue, the safety and security discussion was decidedly less contentious than the debate on the school budget.

The budget, which passed by a 49-32 vote, will land at about $3.9 million, a $379,461 increase over the current fiscal year.

The budget will increase the tax rate by just a penny, to $1.45 per $100 of valuation, which would increase annual taxes on a property assessed at $250,000 by $25. One reason for the smaller tax increase, officials said, is an increase in the Common Level of Appraisal, a state formula intended to ensure that each town contributes its fair share of school taxes to the Vermont Education Fund.

Reasons for the increase in the budget itself included increased health care costs for teachers and additional expenses brought on due to the expansion of the preschool last year.

But the passage came after an at-times prickly deliberation, during which several residents expressed concern with the cost-of-living raises going to teachers, including a $5,150 raise for Williams, the principal.

“We’re hurting, and you need to hurt a little too,” said Brian Kain, a Sharon resident since 1977. “It has to be hurt across the board.”

However, some voters, such as Fritz Weiss, cautioned against such an approach.

“We shouldn’t look at this as year-after-year big increases, because that’s not what’s happening,” Weiss said, noting a $300,000 dip in the school budget last year, as well as a freeze on Williams’ salary in that period. “It isn’t really a fair analysis.”

The vote was completed via paper ballot, the only one of the seven warning articles not voted on by voice.

After voters took on the budget and safety and security articles, the meeting barreled forward. Voters allowed the board to transfer about $20,000 — a surplus from fiscal year 2012 — to a building maintenance reserve fund, a move that does not affect the tax rate. A similar vote afterward saw the electorate appointing Gagliardone to a three-year School Director term.

Town Meeting today will be held at 9 a.m. at the Sharon Elementary School.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.