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Vernon school budget suffers second narrow loss

School Board goes back to the drawing board

VERNON—School Board Chair Mike Hebert’s cell phone connection crackled as he walked through the hallways of Vernon Elementary School.

“We’re not sure what we’re going to do yet,” said Hebert on his way to the School Board’s meeting, where he and his board were set to deal with the consequences of the town’s vote on Monday.

At a Special Town Meeting on May 5, voters defeated the fiscal year 2016 school budget a second time by Australian ballot, 174 to 169.

The School Board postponed budget discussions until the next board meeting on May 18.

Hebert, who also represents Vernon and Guilford in the Vermont House of Representatives, expects the School Board will plead its case to voters at future public meetings before presenting the budget for another revote.

If the $4.37 million school budget doesn’t pass a third town-wide vote, then the School Board will be forced under Vermont statute to use 87 percent of the previous fiscal year’s budget, until the voters pass a budget for fiscal year 2016, he said.

Voters also overwhelmingly defeated a special referendum seeking to reinstate the elected auditors position.

At Town Meeting in March, Vernon voters narrowly defeated the $4.4 million school budget. A subsequent recount failed to show a different outcome.

The School Board presented a revised budget of $4.37 million in April. During an April 13 public hearing, voters questioned whether a reduction of $37,506, represented the board’s willingness to make tough financial decisions.

Voters have expressed uneasiness with rising education taxes, declining enrollments, and the phasing out of a tax stabilization program related to the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, which closed last year.

Some voters have asked if the board would cut staff to decrease the budget. The board has said that the school is staffed properly to meet students’ needs.

Approximately half of the total Vernon school budget, or $2.4 million, funds the Vernon Elementary School.

School Board members have consistently stressed to voters that the $4.37 million budget includes funds for more than the Vernon Elementary School. Yet, if the board makes substantial cuts, those reductions will hit only the elementary school students.

As a member town of the BUHS District #6, Vernon pays a portion of the budgets for the high school, middle school, and career center in Brattleboro. Vernon offers its residents school choice, so the school budget also includes tuition payments for students in grades 7-12 who attend other schools.

Only a handful of voters approved the District #6 budget in February.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #305 (Wednesday, May 13, 2015). This story appeared on page A1.

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