VERNON -- Following months of line-by-line budget deliberations, the Vernon Town School Board has finalized a suggested spending plan for the next fiscal year.
A public forum on the $4.4 million proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29, at the elementary school.
The budget makes no significant changes in staffing, with officials saying Vermont's education-funding system shields the school from absorbing direct financial impacts of the pending closure of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
Regardless, board members say they approached the budget with the same attention to detail as in past years -- and with the same aim of cutting expenses wherever possible.
"I don't think this was much different, because we always put a lot of time and thought into it," board Chairwoman Mary Ann Gardner said.
Added board member Mike Hebert: "We've been making our cuts gradually over a period of years."
Cost cutting has been the focus of this budget season in Vernon, with Vermont Yankee owner Entergy announcing in August that the Governor Hunt Road plant will cease operations by the end of 2014.
The town subsequently struck a deal with Entergy that decreased Yankee's tax valuation relatively slightly for the next tax year, staving off any steep drop in tax revenues for the short term.
The situation is different for the school, given Vermont's complex system of collecting and redistributing education-tax proceeds in an effort to ensure equality among districts.
Hebert, who also is a state representative serving Vernon and Guilford, noted that Yankee's declining valuation for tax purposes will impact the state's education fund -- not necessarily, in a direct way, Vernon's school budget.
"If the plant loses value, there'll be less money going to the state (for education)," Hebert noted.
That's not to say, however, that Vernon school officials haven't been thinking about Yankee's pending closure and about cost cutting in general. In fact, in the proposed fiscal 2015 budget, direct school spending is down slightly from the current fiscal year.
"We're proud of that," Gardner said.
Overall, with other spending including the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union assessment factored in, the fiscal 2015 spending plan is $4.4 million, up about 2.5 percent from the current budget.
Gardner said the board "worked very hard with the principal, Mark Speno, to make a thoughtful, realistic budget for the school."
That includes reducing personnel costs in a way that didn't necessitate slashing positions from the budget.
"There were no major cuts," Gardner said. "We did have some retirements, and bringing people in at a lower (pay) rate helps."
Wednesday's public meeting was scheduled to explain the board's budgeting process. The fiscal 2015 spending plan, which takes effect July 1, is subject to voter approval.
"We're hoping to explain everything in detail," Gardner said, noting that last year's budget forum attracted just a handful of residents.
"We're hoping that, this year, with everything going on, there will be more interest," she said.
In addition to explaining the budget, members of the school board also want to start talks about changing how voters approve the school's budget.
The annual budget vote currently happens via Australian Ballot. While that format may be more convenient for voters, officials say moving the vote to the floor of Town Meeting may allow for more discussion among school board members and residents.
"We'd like to get more public input," Gardner said. "It would give us a better chance to explain it."
Such a change wouldn't take effect this year. But Gardner said some preliminary discussion can occur at Town Meeting in March.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.