School board preps for budget debates
BRATTLEBORO -- The members of the Brattleboro Town School Board know that they might be facing a tough fight this year at Representative Town Meeting.
Last year the budget passed by six votes after a lengthy discussion which included a proposal to slash the budget by $1 million.
With federal and state education grants shrinking, the state education tax projected to rise by about five cents and the usual increases in fuel, insurance and salaries, this year's budget is likely not going to be any easier to sell to town meeting representatives.
It is going to be a few weeks before the school board gets its first look at the proposed 2015 budget, but the board members got together with Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Finance Director Jim Kane Wednesday to talk about the town's educational spending, and make sure they were ready to answer any questions that might come their way.
"It's good to be proactive, it helps," Kane said at the end of the hour-long meeting. "It would be good to get as much information out as possible ahead of town meeting."
Kane said the tax situation "did not look good," with preliminary estimates from the state showing a five cent increase in the state education tax, even before the district's own spending comes into play.
And while the school board members lobbed questions at Kane throughout the meeting, Kane cautioned the board from expecting easy answers, or solutions to Vermont's complex education funding formula.
Tax bills are determined by local spending but real estate sales, individual household income, statewide spending and federal grant programs all come into play.
School board member Jill Stahl Tyler said she wanted to meet with Kane to get a better understanding about the board's options, and limitations, in formulating the budget.
The board talked about school nurses, librarians, textbooks and professional development costs.
They did not talk specifics, but appeared willing to at least talk about making reductions to make the budget more appealing to the town meeting reps.
"We are going to have to have a better handle on all of this when we present the budget at town meeting," Stahl Tyler said.
The district is going to show an estimated $194,000 budget surplus in 2013, though Kane cautioned the board from making too many plans with that chunk of money.
Most years, Kane said, the district does end up with a surplus, but he said tending to aging buildings, a snowy winter, a few legal battles, or any number of other surprises can quickly swing things the other way.
The board also talked about working more closely with the town meeting finance committee.
Last year the committee put out a report calling on the school board to keep spending down in light of the declining enrollment and sluggish economy.
"It's a stark reality for Vermont and when people ask us questions we have to have answers," Stahl Tyler said. "You have to wonder how long this is sustainable."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer
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