North Bennington school budget vote may be complicated
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | February 09,2013
NORTH BENNINGTON — While voters at town meeting in March may not have a budget that explains how money is being spent for the school district, members of the school board, known as the North Bennington Prudential Committee, say they will not spend any more than the $2.3 million they’re asking voters to approve.
The North Bennington School District’s ballot is already unusual because it calls for two votes on the budget of $2,317,535. By state law, the budget vote has to be in two parts because North Bennington spent more per pupil than the state average last year and the proposed budget is more than last year’s budget adjusted for inflation.
But the budget is even trickier because the school district is attempting to change from an operating school district — which operates a public school for local students — to a non-operating district — which does not operate a public school.
In North Bennington’s case, the school board is working with a board of trustees so the trustees can open and run the Village School of North Bennington, an independent school, in the building which is now the North Bennington Graded School, a public school for students from kindergarten through sixth grade.
At a special meeting Friday, members of the school board said they would not make the transition from a public to an independent school unless the cost was within $2.3 million they’re requesting as a total budget.
The board voted to approve a process by which they would create a budget if they become a non-operating district. Central to the deliberations in the process is the assessment established by the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union.
By Vermont law, even a non-operating school district must belong to a supervisory union and that supervisory union is allowed to assess the member district for its share of the costs of operation.
Thomas Martin, principal of the North Bennington Graded School, said his district’s budget contained $99,000 to represent the assessment from the supervisory union.
However, the school board, according to its budget process, said there must be recognition that a non-operating district “does not have the same needs for services in technology, human resources, curriculum and assessment, administrative services and financial operations.”
Board members said they planned to meet with representatives of the supervisory union to discuss whether the assessment should be adjusted, but the budget process said the school board is “committed to paying fairly for services … that our district actually receives.”
The central office of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union closed early Friday in anticipation of the storm and administrators could not be reached.
Gail Mauricette, the school district’s treasurer, said she was concerned because voters won’t have a budget to review at the time they’re being asked to approve the budget. Board members said they couldn’t even promise the final budget would be available by town meeting March 5.
“We’re doing the best that we can in that effort by promising, (based on) the trust that’s been put into this board by voters, that … the total cost and expense will be the total budget number without deficit spending,” said Matthew Patterson, a school board member.
Patterson said later he didn’t expect many school budgets would pass this year, but it would be a “tragedy” if the budget in North Bennington doesn’t pass.