Multiple budgets to appear on ballot
By Lee J. Kahrs
BRANDON — Despite the fact that voters in eight towns have approved the new Otter Valley Unified Union School District under the state Act 46 school consolidation law, there are loose ends that need tying.
Budgets and ballots
A new board has been elected, and a new side-by-side school district has been formed, comprised of the OVUU towns of Brandon, Pittsford, Goshen, Leicester, Sudbury, Whiting and the Barstow District towns of Chittenden and Mendon.
But the budgeting and voting aspect of the new districts is currently in flux due to the timing of the Jan. 19 consolidation vote. Under Vermont law, there is a 30-day reconsideration period from the date of the vote. A petition can be submitted within that 30-day period containing signatures from 5 to 20 percent of a town’s voting population (20 percent is required in Brandon; other towns require less) to rescind or reconsider the passing vote.
But because the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union sought a January consolidation vote to simplify the March budget voting process at Town Meeting, budgets had to go into town reports before the reconsideration period would be up on Feb. 18.
Therefore, voters will see three school budgets on the Town Meeting ballot: their town school budget, the Otter Valley UHS budget, and the new, overarching OVUU budget.
Voters in Goshen, Whiting, Sudbury and Mendon, who all vote from the floor, will also be asked to vote on those three budgets.
The OVUU budget represents a commingling of each of the seven schools’ budgets (Goshen does not have a school) all rolled into one $22,604,806 spending plan. It should be noted that none of the proposed school’s individual budgets went up enough to trigger the state penalty for going over allowable growth percentage spending caps, even before the Legislature recently raised that cap by .09 percent.
As long as the OVUU budget passes on Town Meeting Day, the other budgets are irrelevant, but they had to be represented on the ballot because of the reconsideration period.
Voters in Chittenden and Mendon will see their individual school budgets, and then a combined Barstow school budget. If the Barstow budget is approved, the others are irrelevant.
OV towns will not vote on the Barstow budget, and Barstow voters will not vote on the OVUU budget.
RNeSU Business Manager Brenda Fleming in a meeting Monday acknowledged that area voters are entering new territory, and that the district, for all intents and purposes, is reinventing the wheel.
“We are the first and only side-by-side school district in the state, so we’re kind of paving the way,” said Fleming. “On Feb. 19 when we take our first breath and have our birth certificate signed by the Agency of Education, we can really begin.”
After Feb. 19, there will be a district re-organization meeting of the OVUU and Barstow Districts, with opening remarks by Agency of Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe. The boards will elect a moderator, a treasurer and a clerk. The boards will then be sworn in by their town clerks and have their first re-organizational meeting and elect a board chair and board clerk. They will establish a meeting schedule and adopt a newspaper of record where district public notices and warnings will appear.
New fiscal year, district
On July 1, 2016, individual school districts in the seven OVUU towns and two Barstow towns will no longer be responsible for their local schools. Sec. Holcombe will certify the formation of the new side-by-side district. All new accounts will be created and the district treasurer and OVUU will start dispersing education funds.
“They do offer a separation of duties, which is important to me,” Fleming said of the new financial structure. “The new treasurer will be responsible for dispersing funds after the board has approved them. I’m just the paper person.”
She emphasized that principals of individual schools will still be largely responsible for the school’s budget, working with RNeSU Superintendent Jeanne Collins and Fleming to build those spending plans and present them to the OVUU Board.
“We want the board members to know the principals and build that trust,” Fleming said.
Overall, Fleming complimented the Agency of Education and Holcombe’s leadership in shepherding the new Act 46 school consolidation law and working with RNeSU to make it work.
“I have to commend the Agency of Education,” she said. “they worked really hard and created a system that can be duplicated as other supervisory union district proposals come through.”