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New board approves 2020 school budget of $50.2 million

Windham Southeast School District seats new members from four towns for inaugural meeting

BRATTLEBORO—Topics at the first meeting of the newly elected Windham Southeast School District board ranged from organizational items such as electing officers to approving the first budget of the merged school district.

The meeting on May 22 at Academy School, one day after voters in Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford, and Putney elected the first merged board for the new school district, formed in accordance of Act 46.

Emily Murphy Kaur (Brattleboro), Timothy Morris (Putney), and Kristina Naylor (Dummerston) will serve one-year terms. Meanwhile, Anne Beekman (Putney), David Schoales (Brattleboro) and Kelly Young (Guilford) won the two-year seats. Finally, voters chose Shaun Murphy (Guilford) and Robert Thibault (Dummerston) for the three-year terms.

At the board’s first meeting, board members chose Naylor to serve as chair, Beekman as vice-chair, and Morris as board clerk.

More than once during the meeting, board members shared disappointment that voter turnout had been low. Of the 14,496 registered voters on the official checklists in the four towns, just 700 — 4.8 percent — cast ballots.

Similar to the Transitional Board that came before them, the members of the WSESD board are racing the clock to July 1, the date that the merged district must be operational. To make that a reality, the board will make many decisions with long-term ramifications in a short span of time.

$50 million budget for FY20

One of the biggest tasks before the board and the WSESD’s voters is approving the new district’s fiscal year 2020 budget. This budget will cover schools in Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford, and Putney. The transitional board and district staff had compiled the proposed merged budget.

On May 22, the WSESD approved that budget to go before the voters. Board members also approved the agenda for the June 25 annual meeting where voters will vote the budget from the floor.

Business manager Frank Rucker walked the board through the proposed $50,172,289 FY20 budget. He said that the cost per equalized student is $18,139, which is below the state’s spending threshold.

The overall tax rate associated with this budget is $1.70 per $100,000 of assessed property value, Rucker said.

Not every household will pay that tax rate, Rucker reminded the board members. He added that the overall tax rate of $1.70 will then be factored through the state’s income sensitivity formula and each town’s Common Level of Assessment rate.

Board members also voted to direct school district staff to look for administrative savings within the budget but to not touch any educational programs.

The board also voted to send amendments it might want to make to the state’s articles of agreement for legal review.

Three amendments the board is considering were developed by the Transitional Board. These amendments include establishing local leadership councils, a process for how to change how grades are configured, and a multi-year process for closing schools.

Upcoming meetings, votes scheduled

The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for June 6 at Oak Grove School at 7 p.m.

Two public informational sessions are scheduled to answer questions on the FY20 budget prior to the annual meeting.

The first is Tuesday, June 11, at Dummerston School, and the second is Tuesday, June 18, in the Cusick Conference Room of the Windham Regional Career Center in Brattleboro. Both sessions start at 6:30 p.m.

The first WSESD Annual Meeting and budget vote takes place on Tuesday, June 25, at 7 p.m., at Brattleboro Union High School.

To find more information for the WSESD board, visit sites.google.com/wsesu.org/wseuusdboard/home.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #512 (Wednesday, May 29, 2019). This story appeared on page A1.

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