Bennington School Board puts building plans on hold, considers budget changes
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | March 08,2013
BENNINGTON — After their proposed budget was defeated on Tuesday, members of the Bennington School Board voted on Wednesday to put a proposed building project on hold and made plans to try to reduce the 19 percent increase contained in the budget but received a warning that will probably mean cutting staff.
About 55 percent of the voters rejected the Bennington School District budget in a 1,095-915 vote. The proposed budget was $13,518,802, an increase of 19 percent over this year’s budget of $11,360,113.
After a reorganization, which saw Kenneth Swierad and George Sleeman return to their roles on the board as chairman and vice-chairman respectively, Sleeman made a motion to put a proposed building project on hold.
For the past few months, School Board members have considered asking voters to approve a bond that would allow them to build an addition to Bennington Elementary School. The additional space would handle a “bubble” of higher enrollment that’s expected to pass through the school district.
The School Board decided in January not to put the bond on the ballot for the school meeting but still had tentative plans to call for a special meeting on the bond issue sometime this year. However, the rest of the board supported Sleeman’s motion to temporarily put the building project on hold.
There are other possibilities for expanding classroom space that the School Board is considering including renting space from a sports center that used to be the school district’s fourth elementary school, Catamount Elementary. The sports center is directly across the street from Bennington Elementary.
When discussion turned to the budget, Sleeman said he thought the School Board should ask if the assessment from the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union could be reduced but said he didn’t think the School Board members should “hold our breath.”
Richard Pembroke, the chief financial officer of the supervisory union, told the board that about 80 percent of the assessment from the supervisory union was costs for special education. Pembroke said that cutting from the administrative costs in the assessment would only make a small change in the percentage of budget increase.
The supervisory union creates its own budget which is approved by the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union School Board and then split among its six districts, in the towns of Bennington, North Bennington, Pownal, Shaftsbury and Woodford and the Mount Anthony Union school district which includes all five towns.
Voters don’t approve the supervisory union budget.
According to Pembroke, some of the increase in the budget is due to state and federal education funding.
Pembroke said the School Board members should be aware that making big cuts would almost certainly involve cutting staff to keep the percentage of increase less than 10 percent. Board members said they believed they would need to reconsider their policy designed to keep class sizes small.
The Bennington School Board has scheduled a special meeting at 6 p.m. March 18 at the supervisory union central office to discuss the budget. Pembroke said he would make a presentation to the board on cuts they could make to keep the increase from the current year’s budget below 10 percent.
According to Vermont statute, the School Board must, to call for another budget vote, warn the vote, schedule a public informational meeting at least five days after the notice and schedule a vote at least seven days after the notice.