Rejected Budget Makes Board Rethink

St Johnsbury School BudgetST. JOHNSBURY - St. Johnsbury school board members may face a tough road ahead following town meeting day. The proposed $19.8 million school budget was rejected by voters forcing them back to the drawing board.

 "It is disappointing I think we had a very good budget. I think the town needs to have a strong PreK - 8 school for the children that are here and for the children that will come and I don't think that we will be able to do the level of improvement that we need without some additional funding," explained superintendent Ranny Bledsoe. 

The budget proposed a 5.79% increase per pupil working out to about $976,000, 86% of which can be attributed to established costs such as special education and contractual obligations. The proposed increase would work out to a tax rate increase of a little lower than $2 on a $100,000 house. 

"We have about the lowest education tax rate in the state and this budget is not going to raise our tax rate.... Almost everything was increases in existing programs, special education costs growing, new students at the high school level," said Bledsoe.

Although the increase would have little impact on the tax rate, voters still rejected the budget by a vote of 535 to 446.

"I understand why they want their increase and I understand why they want their curriculum coordinator. I have kind of mixed feelings about it truthfully," explained Selectboard member Kevin Oddy. 

This isn't the first time St. Johnsbury voters have rejected a budget at town meeting, back in 2014, the school budget was rejected by a much higher margin and it took 4 votes before it eventually passed. The school board will now work to draft a new budget for the town to vote on. 

Not only will this process take time but it will also cost the town money. The turn around process is about a two-week period after the school board generates a new budget.
The board will be required to issue a 10-day warning and host an info session for residents before holding another vote. According to Bledsoe, the vote will also face certain time restrictions set by the town as they prefer votes to take place on Tuesdays.
The financial committee and the board will be meeting in the next couple of weeks to formulate a new budget to be presented.The new budget could include cutting a staffing position or new technology, but it is still too early to tell.
"We have to juggle to try to respect the vote but still advocate strongly for what we feel we need to improve the school... What matters to me is great teaching in every classroom and children getting exactly what they need to be successful... I'm hopeful that we can make some decisions and present a budget that will pass."

Another vote will likely happen in late March or early April, and a budget must be passed by the end of this fiscal year.

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