Town Meeting 2016: Dummerston school budget down by 5 percent
DUMMERSTON >> Dummerston Town Meeting on Tuesday morning not only approved a school budget of approximately $3.5 million in under an hour but gave the School Board a round of applause.
In fact, one resident tentatively suggested that the board, having done such a good job with keeping expenses down — the budget represents slightly more than a 5 percent decrease — perhaps deserved a raise.
In a state where school budgets have often been bloody battlefields, this was quite a change.
The Dummerston school teaches 156 students. According to school board Chair Amy Wall, the budget of $3,475,661 reflects some personnel changes, an expected $2,500 in power costs because the school is participating in solar net metering, fewer tuition students and a spending of $17,214 per equalized student, or 0.6 percent above spending for the current year.
One notable line item was special education. When it began, special education was designed to integrate physically and mentally challenged but mainstreamed students.
Now it reflects behavioral and emotional challenges as well.
"We're dealing with more significant trauma," principal Jo Carol Ratti said after the meeting. "More mental health issues. Kids are living or born into drug-dependent households, or they're abused. But they're still in school and schools have to figure out ways to deal with them in ways that special education never addressed before. We have kids in Dummerston School who are homeless, or couch surfing, or squatting. And yet this community comes around to support these kids in ways that are phenomenal."
School spending fireworks came later, when state representatives David Deen and Michael Mrowicki and state Senator Jeanette White addressed the packed meeting about Act 46, a new law which requires schools to consider school consolidation — and the elimination of local school boards — in the interest of saving money. In Dummerston, the law is controversial.
"It will dissolve this school community," said Read Miller. "This building — which we paid for — will belong to someone else. We will go to a more central system without ownership. What did you vote for? We choose to rescind this."
"We tried to appeal it this year and failed by a significant margin," he said, "We need to keep going back. I'm not ready to give this school up. It's a central piece of democracy."
In other news, Deen said the town — and the state — should be concerned about its environmental future, including the loss of pollinators and the reality that freshwater fish are diminishing because they cannot breed — they are becoming "intersexed," having both male and female characteristics. This could be because of drug pollution in rivers and streams.
White spoke about her bill to legalize marijuana. She called writing it "a balancing act."
"No one would be in Montpelier for the power, the glory or the money, believe me," she said. "We're working on a bill. My feeling is that Prohibition didn't work."
Deen reported that there was "less than tepid" support for the marijuana bill in the House.
After lunch, the town took up the Town Warning and passed, in two hours: a capital fund addition of $150,000; a town budget of $411,746, of which $214,160 will be raised by taxes and $197,586 by non-tax revenues; a highway fund budget of $495,390, of which $348,414 will be raised by taxes and $146,976 by non-tax revenues; and they put $15,000 in the Highway Structures Replacement Fund.
One resident asked if the easy 2015-2016 winter provided the town with a surplus. Select board Chairman Zeke Goodband warned that, "Winter is not over; all hell could break loose tomorrow." But if there is a surplus, it will appear in next year's budget.
Dressed in full regalia, the town's fire chief and assistant fire chief made a plea for a new fire station in central Dummerston. They said that Dummerston is laid out "over rivers and mountains and connected by an old covered bridge" and needed two fire stations. The central one is old — it was built in 1965 — and must be replaced. The Fire Department will be looking for between $250,000 and $280,000 from the town at a special town meeting in April, but have already raised 40 percent of the money themselves.
Retiring Town Clerk Pamela McFadden received a standing ovation and flowers. The family of Larry Lynch, who died in 2015 and whose picture graces the cover of the Town Report, thanked the town in an emotional speech for its recognition. Resident Mark Whittaker, who has for many years fought to make Town Meeting members conscious that many Dummerstonians face financial challenges. He announced that he is moving out of town. He, too, received a standing ovation for his contributions to the town.
Joyce Marcel can be contacted at email@example.com.
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