ROCKINGHAM -- The proposed budget of the Rockingham Town School District would increase the tax rate by 12.5 cents as the result of increased special education costs and an attempt to settle contract negotiations with the local teachers' union.
Voters will be asked on Tuesday, March 4, via Article 3 of the district warrant to appropriate $10,638,645.90 for the operation and maintenance of the Rockingham's public schools from July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015. The vote will be taken via Australian ballot at the Masonic Temple at 61 Westminster St. starting at 9 a.m.
Rockingham School Board Chairman Jim "Jiggs" McAuliffe told the Reformer 7 cents of the 12.5-cent hike is due to the state homestead tax, which he said is how Vermont funds its education budget. He said the homestead tax is part of Act 60, also known as the Equal Educational Opportunity Act, and all other school districts in the state are taking on at least a 7-cent increase in the tax rate.
The proposed budget also includes roughly $270,000, for pay increases for teachers, as a way to resolve the dispute with the Windham Northeast Education Association (WNEA). On Wednesday, Jan. 29, the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union's school directors picked up where they left off in negotiations with the teachers' union before the talks took a hiatus so a a neutral third party could produce a fact-finding report. McAuliffe said the next negotiating meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 12.
"(The $270,000) represents a number that we think would be appropriate," he said Monday, adding that all school directors want to settle the contract issue as soon as possible. He said he is unsure how the public will react to the proposed increase, which he called huge, though he said not much could be done about it.
Another $250,000 in this year's proposed budget comes from an increase in special education costs, which means more students will be on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). McAuliffe said Rockingham has 18 percent of its student body on IEPs and the school board predicts that number will increase to 22 or 23 percent next year.
"The budget is based on projections," he said.
McAuliffe told the Reformer increases in health care costs account for $50,000 in spending in the proposed budget and $20,000 is designated for Chromebook computers, which are manufactured by Google.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.