Rejected L&G budget cannot be altered for next vote
TOWNSHEND -- Voters in the Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School district are in for a bit of déja vu.
Three weeks after the Leland & Gray board's roughly $7 million proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 was rejected by voters, board members announced that they had received a petition compelling them to present the same budget for another vote on April 2.
The announcement came as board members were preparing to slash expenses in order to present a pared-down budget to voters. Now, due to petitions for reconsideration signed by 194 voters, the spending plan cannot be changed before the revote.
"We are legally obliged to follow the petition," board Chairwoman Emily Long said.
The Townshend school's proposed budget failed via a cumulative Australian Ballot tally of 132-122 among voters in the district's five towns. A majority of voters in Jamaica, Newfane and Windham approved the budget, but the votes were negative in Brookline and Townshend.
On Feb. 11, Leland & Gray board members met to discuss the matter but still struggled to understand the exact reason for the rejection. The meeting was sparsely attended by the public, and several of those who did attend said they had supported the budget.
There was speculation that a proposed $32,500 food-services upgrade was an issue for some voters, while some pointed to an increase in the school's Windham Central Supervisory Union assessment. There also is the fact that the school has a sometimes-rocky relationship with its host town: The budget failed by a 54-20 margin in Townshend.
Others said it may have come down to the simple fact that the spending plan, though up by just 2.8 percent over the current year, called for tax hikes in four of the five member towns.
Near the conclusion of that Feb. 11 meeting, board members asked school administrators to come up with cuts that would result in a 2 percent budgetary increase over the current year rather than a 2.8 percent increase. Those cuts were supposed to be made public Wednesday night.
"We were coming prepared to reduce the budget," Long said.
Instead, Windham Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Steven John announced that the board had received -- and the district's clerk had certified -- 194 petition signatures in favor of reconsidering the same budget.
Such petitions required 5 percent -- or 174 -- of the 3,470 total registered voters in the five towns. So there were more than enough signatures, and John said he had received even more signatures just before Wednesday evening's meeting.
Signatures came from all five towns -- 16 from Townshend, 21 from Jamaica, 28 from Windham, 25 from Brookline and 104 from Newfane.
The petitions also came in well before the 30-day deadline, John said.
"The board really doesn't have any option" but to send the same budget back to voters for reconsideration, John said.
He also advised that, by law, all facets of the vote must be the same as on Feb. 5.
"The poll has to be in exactly the same place, at exactly the same time, as last time," John said.
Therefore, the Leland & Gray board approved a warning for the April 2 budget vote. Australian Balloting will begin that day at 9 a.m. in Brookline, Newfane and Townshend and at 10 a.m. in Jamaica and Windham. All polls close at 7 p.m.
The voting locations are as follows: Brookline, town office; Jamaica, town office; Newfane, NewBrook Fire House; Townshend, town hall; and Windham, town office.
"We'll get the warning out to the town clerks for posting in the usual places," John said.
The Leland & Gray board has scheduled a public informational meeting on the budget for 7 p.m. March 25 at the school. And board members are hoping for increased turnout this time, with officials having noted a trend of declining participation in the school's budget meetings and votes.
"We should be getting as much information as we can out about this budget, and we should encourage people to get out to vote," Long said.
The proposed budget for the April 2 vote is the same as the one in the school's annual report, which was previously distributed to residents. Also, a detailed budget rationale authored by Principal Dorinne Dorfman is available on the school's website, www.lelandandgray.org.
Long said she hopes the board can clear up misconceptions about the budget in advance of the vote.
"What we should do, what we are obliged to do, is to make sure people understand," she said.
For instance, while Dorfman's written rationale explains the increase in the WCSU assessment and the thinking behind the food-services upgrade, "I think there was a little confusion over maybe reading the rationale and then linking it to the (budget) line item," Long said.
One board member suggested reaching out to those who may have dissenting viewpoints on the budget. But Long warned that the board cannot be selective.
"What we need to be is really open with absolutely everybody," she said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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