Cuts in art, music classes proposed for Bennington school budget
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | April 05,2013
BENNINGTON — The Bennington School Board moved closer to a new budget to put before voters after their previous budget failed in March, and all but one member rejected the idea of saving money by making cuts to art, music or physical education classes.
Voters rejected the $13,518,802 budget by a vote of 1,095-915 on Town Meeting Day. At a School Board meeting in March, several members, including Chairman Kenneth Swierad, said they believed voters had failed to support the budget because the percentage of increase from the current budget was 19 percent.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the board looked at a proposal that would have reduced the increase, by Swierad’s suggestion, to less than 10 percent. The budget was created by Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union CFO Richard Pembroke and the principals at Bennington’s three elementary schools, Bennington, Molly Stark and Monument.
The School Board members were given a presentation with some suggested cuts and an explanation for how they would reduce the budget to $12,479,289, which would have been a 9.85 percent increase from the current budget.
However, board members were told the suggestions had been divided into three categories. The first, Pembroke said, were items that were already removed from the budget. With new information and a thorough review of the budget, they were line items that weren’t needed, Pembroke said.
Cutting those expenses reduced the budget to $13,096,984, or a percentage increase of 15.3 percent.
The second category was made up or cuts that would have been difficult but acceptable in order to create a budget that voters would support. One proposed cut would eliminate crossing guards.
But the third category included cutting art classes and library staff. Pembroke said those cuts were not supported by administrators at the supervisory union or the schools but were the only way that had been found to cut the budget so the increase was not a double-digit percentage.
The largest majority of the increase to the budget was for special education needs which must be met by law so the cuts are being sought in other areas of the budget.
After an extended conversation about the proposal, Swierad said the board members should take the information under advisement and make their final decision at their next meeting, scheduled for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Bennington Elementary School.
Board member George Sleeman made a motion to remove the lowest tier from consideration because he believed no one supported making cuts to the arts program.
Another board member, Paul Becker, said he believed those cuts needed to remain on the table. Becker accused the other members of the board of preserving the art and music classes just because the cameras from CAT-TV, the local cable access channel, were there.
“That’s really my feeling right now that this is a show for the public. That we’re going to make a decision on this just because we want to say, ‘We’re going to preserve that program.’ I don’t think that’s the approach we ought to take right now. If we’re going to talk about this budget and all the items on it, they all ought to be in play,” he said.
Pembroke told the Bennington School Board they needed to take action soon so the supervisory union could inform teachers they might be cut and there would be time for the School Board members to promote the budget to the public. Teachers have already been notified that their jobs might lost due to budget cuts.
Sleeman said he also plans to ask the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union School Board if there are any cuts that can be made by them that will reduce the Bennington school budget.
Several teachers and parents attended the meeting to express their concern about possible cuts to art classes and special education.