Dummerston voters learn about the future of their school

DUMMERSTON — At the start of Dummerston Town Meeting moderator Cindy Jerome reminded the gathering crowd that as a community in a civil society, there is a "tremendous gap between saying 'I am right' and 'I believe I am right.'" She needn't have worried. The meeting was nothing if not thoughtful and dignified. And long.

At its peak, attendance hit around 140. As usual, older people predominated, but high school students and even a few babies livened up the atmosphere. The meeting started at 10 a.m. and adjourned at 4 p.m., with an hour for lunch provided by the Evening Star Grange. The school portion came first.

Dummerston has led the way in the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union area by opposing an Act 46 merger that would eliminate its school board. This has been a contentious issue in the past, but a presentation of a proposed Alternate Governance Structure conducted by School Board Chairwoman Kristina Naylor was thorough and received with interest and respect.

If Dummerston doesn't consolidate, it has several options: an alternative government structure with neighboring towns, going alone, merging despite the strong town vote against merging, and "the nuclear option," turning Dummerston into a private academy. "We decided to create an alternative government structure that met the goals of Act 46," Naylor said. This proposal is now in the hands of the Vermont Secretary of Education, who has to present a statewide plan in November. Sen. Jeanette White and Representatives Mike Mrowicki and David Deen promised to support it.

The voters approved a $2,945,600 school budget without much discussion, perhaps because much of it is level-funded and a small part is actually lower than it has been in the past. Dummerston often has exceeded the state per student spending cap, but in the coming year, it will be 0.3 percent less, or $17,802.

"This year the challenge was a shortfall in state funds," Naylor said. "There was a net increase of 9 percent statewide. Our tax rate would have gone up 9 or 10 cents. So (Principal) Jo Carol Ratti made significant cuts and the budget is pretty much level funded with a decrease overall."

Dummerston wants to begin a pre-kindergarten program but start-up costs would be close to $90,000 and, Naylor said, "This is not a good year to ask taxpayers to take on an additional program. Hopefully we will fund it for FY 2020."

Federal support for an academic support position will not be available this year, but the position is so important to student learning, Naylor said, that the school will fund the $75,000 itself.

The WSESU assessment is down 5.8 percent "because our enrollment is down," Naylor said. The operations budget went from $58,500 last year to $14,000 this fiscal year because "this was not a good year for doing large initiatives like paving the parking lot." Small repairs will still be done, however, including paving the parking lot in front of the main entrance.

Last year voters approved $30,000 for HVAC improvements, which "are happening as we speak," Naylor said.

Winter recreation funding is down, but the school plans to fundraise to fill the gap.

When several of Dummerston's legislators came through, Mrowicki read a proclamation from the Vermont Senate and the House of Representatives announcing that F. William "Bill" Holiday had been honored with membership in the Vermont Principals' Association Hall of Fame. Holiday received a standing ovation.

During the town portion of the meeting, voters approved putting $170,000 into the capital fund — "You have planned for your future," Jerome said. Then the town bought itself a grader and a new fire truck.

The voters also increased the town's general operating fund by doubling the amount it will put into the Farmland Protection Fund — $5,000 rather than $2,500 — thus voting $460,636 for general fund expenditures, of which $278,618 shall be raised by taxes and the rest raised by non-tax revenues. The additional money was to show Dummerston's enthusiasm for preserving open farmland and its rural character.

Also enthusiastically, the town voted a non-binding advisory to the state about taking strong measures to prevent climate change.

If anything came even close to contentious, it was a request to fund the Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies to the tune of $5,592. Several people pointed out that we live on a "finite planet" and, given that the town had just taken a stand on climate change, continuous economic growth was dangerous.

"I wish we had an agency that would help us get to no growth," said Larry Crockett. "So if we voted for the previous motion about climate change, philosophically we should vote against this. We can't have it both ways. And I agonize about this."

It took a paper ballot to vote SeVEDS the money, 71 yes and 27 against.

In other business, the town learned that it has too many deer which are eating maple and oak saplings and changing the environment. It was also noted that when the new Select Board convenes it will have three women and two men — a first. And there are new trail maps for Dummerston available at the town office. The town also voted to consider itself "a compassionate community."


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