Leland & Gray budget rejected


TOWNSHEND -- Voters have rejected the proposal fiscal year 2015 budget for Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School, forcing board members to retool the spending plan.

In Australian Ballot voting Wednesday, residents in five member towns voted 132-122 against enacting a nearly $7 million budget that had been proposed by the school board.

Board members next meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Townshend school, and they'll immediately begin planning for a revised budget and a second vote, Chairwoman Emily Long said.

"Hopefully, we will get some community feedback," Long said. "We really do need it."

The Leland & Gray budget, which had been proposed at a 2.8 percent increase from the current year's spending plan, failed to win voter approval for the first time in more than a decade.

It's the cumulative vote that matters. But, in looking at a breakdown, officials noted that voters in Brookline (17 opposed, 11 in favor) and Townshend (54 opposed, 20 in favor) rejected the budget.

The budget won majority approval in the district's three other member towns -- Jamaica (29-14), Newfane (44-39) and Windham (18-8).

The 254 total votes cast represented an improvement over last year's dismal turnout of 214. But Long said she still considered the turnout low, and Wednesday's snowstorm no doubt kept some voters home.

"We normally have over 300 people voting ... and clearly that number was down," Long said.

The nature of an Australian Ballot vote, conducted without discussion at five polling places, makes it difficult for officials to speculate on why the budget failed.

"We can't know how people are feeling specifically," Long said. "However, we're going to be assessing it for sure."

Officials had touted the fact that the proposed Leland & Gray budget actually decreased classroom spending by 3 percent, or $89,220, from the current year.

But Principal Dorinne Dorfman, in a budget rationale that was posted on the school's website, also detailed the need for more spending in several areas of the budget.

That included investments in a new driver-education car; a new kiln for the art department; new computer-technology equipment including a three-dimensional printer; and $96,500 in capital expenses.

The latter line item was a $23,500 increase over the current year and included the first phase of a three-year, $72,500 project to upgrade the school's kitchen and cafeteria.

Officials contend the Leland & Gray food-services facilities are outdated and cramped, and Dorfman said the increasing demands placed on those facilities -- including growing numbers of free meals, breakfasts and snacks -- made an upgrade necessary.

Long said it is unclear, in light of Wednesday's vote, whether the kitchen upgrade should move forward.

"I'm sure that's one of the things we'll be looking at, along with the whole budget," she said.

The proposed fiscal 2015 budget also had included a "significant increase" in the cost of Leland & Gray's assessment to be paid to Windham Central Supervisory Union.

Overall, the budget would have resulted -- according to preliminary projections that accounted only for Leland & Gray's spending -- in tax hikes in four of the district's five member towns.

But Long didn't recall, in meetings prior to the budget vote, much inquiry about tax rates. At the district's annual meeting Tuesday night, she said, there were questions about topics including the proposed capital investment; the supervisory-union assessment; the structure of the Leland & Gray voting process; and educational spending overall.

At Tuesday's meeting, "there was a fairly decent turnout," Long said. "There were probably 30 people in the room. We had a broad variety of questions about our budget."

Long said she is hoping for more feedback in the coming weeks as the Leland & Gray board revamps the budget and, eventually, sets a date for another Australian Ballot vote.

The timing of that vote is unclear at this point. Long said the only statutory requirement is that the board has a budget in place by the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30.

"We are required to bring back a new budget, and it has to be a revised budget," Long said. "So we'll meet and have a conversation about that."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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