BRATTLEBORO — Voters quickly approved an approximately $62.7 million budget at the Windham Southeast School District annual meeting Tuesday, applauding their decision afterwards.
“Our proposal has been informed by years of lessons learned and effective strategies used to bring about improved student supports, opportunities and outcomes, especially as we emerge from the effects of the pandemic,” School Board member Shaun Murphy said.
The fiscal year 2024 budget includes plans for the final year of grant funds from the federal Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief Act. Murphy said the money enables the district “to focus on recovery plan goals to improve student mental health and well being, student engagement, academic achievement and student success.”
Funds are dedicated to after school programs, capital improvements for outdoor learning opportunities and climate change mitigation strategies.
Murphy said student enrollment is projected to stay stable and the homestead school property tax rate is expected to decrease to $1.51, which is down by 6.5 percent from the current fiscal year. Property tax rates within the district are anticipated to vary due to fluctuations in the real estate market, a factor in determining tax rates known as the common level of adjustment.
FY24 spending is up by about 2.7 percent from the current fiscal year. Murphy attributed the bump to additional positions needed to support students, a 12 percent increase in health insurance costs and an increase in special education service costs.
Capital improvements planned include heating and ventilation system upgrades, building thermal improvements and roof replacements. All of the projects “consider climate impact,” Murphy said.
“The board is unanimous in supporting this budget as a fiscally responsible plan to respond to our students and school community needs,” he said.
Frank Rucker, business administrator at Windham Southeast Supervisory Union, counted about 30 positions funded through ESSER grants for the current fiscal year. Next year, the number totals about 24.
Rucker said staff hired with the ESSER funds are addressing learning loss, re-engaging students and offering social emotional support.
Voters approved $7,000 stipends for board members and $9,000 for the chairperson. They also nominated Jaci Reynolds of Brattleboro, Kristina Naylor of Dummerston, and Maggie Foley of Guilford to the Independent Budget Review Committee.
Barb Nowakowski, school district clerk and long-time executive assistant for the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union, received a standing ovation for about 25 years of service. Mo Hart will be taking her place in the positions.
Liz Adams, Emily Murphy Kaur, Michelle Luetjen Green and David Schoales were recognized for serving on the School Board. Adams and Kaur decided not to seek re-election, Green lost an election earlier this month, and Schoales resigned in October.
In the audience were 52 voters from Brattleboro, 18 from Dummerston, 20 voters from Guilford and 13 from Putney.
“This is our first in-person meeting, I think, in three years,” said Steven Brown, school district moderator.
Brown said he had been “sidelined” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as voters decided budgets and other articles by ballot instead of from the floor.