Voters approve Vernon school budget during special election


VERNON -- When Vernon School Board hires a replacement for outgoing Principal Mark Speno, there’s one thing he or she won’t have to worry about.

"It’s good for the new principal coming in that the budget is going to be funded adequately," school board Chairman Mike Hebert said.

That’s because town residents, in a special election Tuesday, approved the school’s $4.35 million spending plan on a 158-130 vote. The fiscal year 2015 budget had been revised following a rejection in March, and Hebert said he had been "optimistic that it would pass" in the second presentation to voters.

"I think we explained our budget," Hebert said. "To keep the quality of the education we have, we needed to maintain our funding."

The school budget’s initial failure on March 4 came amid Town Meeting debate about spending cuts in Vernon due to the pending demise of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. It also happened in the context of widespread concern about school spending in Vermont: Statewide, there were more than 30 school budgets rejected this year.

The Vernon board initially considered sending the same, $4.4 million plan back to voters for reconsideration. But after hearing budget-cutting recommendations from Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Ron Stahley, board members approved a revised, $4.35 million spending proposal.

Overall, that plan still is 1.35 percent higher than the current year’s budget. But in direct elementary-education spending, the board made $69,732 in cuts for the second vote.

"The board’s first priority was to minimize any impact on what we do here for the students of Vernon Elementary School," Hebert said during an April 28 public meeting on the second budget proposal.

The biggest change came via the deletion of a proposed $44,500 investment into the school’s capital fund. Some of those planned capital purchases were dumped altogether, and officials plan to use $19,000 in existing capital-fund cash to buy computers.

Board members also made a variety of smaller reductions in the school’s electricity budget; the SCAMP program for incoming students; retirement funding; travel and conference spending; course reimbursement; Fiber Connect fees; the One Percent Fund allocation; and school board dues and fees.

There also was $1,000 sliced from each school board member’s salary, resulting in a total savings of $5,000.

However, during the April 28 hearing, the board’s salaries -- which still total $15,000 for five members -- were called into question by several residents including Lynda Starorypinski, who had surveyed some other towns’ school-board stipends.

In towns including Dummerston, Guilford and Putney, Starorypinski said, school board members are paid less than $1,000 each.

"I just feel that is a lot of money (for Vernon’s School Board salaries), and it could be cut," she told the board. "It was fine when we were flush with money. But we’re not flush with money anymore."

Others defended the board’s pay. And Hebert said "there is a value" to the hours logged by board members.

"We’re not responsible for other boards being underpaid, and we truly believe those other boards are underpaid," he said.

Hebert also repeatedly has pointed out that, due to Vermont’s education-funding system, which collects local tax proceeds and redistributes them to promote equality among districts, Vernon Elementary does not benefit greatly from the presence of Vermont Yankee.

"Vernon Elementary is not flush with money any more than any surrounding (school)," Hebert said during the April 28 meeting.

The board, he added, has made "tremendous adjustments" to keep costs under control over the years.

On Tuesday, a majority of voters apparently were satisfied with those adjustments. But turnout was low: The 289 votes cast via Australian Ballot at the town office -- including one spoiled ballot -- were far fewer than the 522 votes cast on March 4.

Hebert noted that the first school vote happened during a "contentious" Town Meeting that attracted plenty of interest from voters. Also, Vernon voters had turned out en masse on May 5 to reconsider the town’s budget and its police protection.

"I think there’s a little bit of fatigue, too," Hebert said. "People are tired. And I think there was more concern about the town budget than the school budget."

Mike Faher can be reached at or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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