News

SB2 is debated in Mont Vernon

Thursday, February 16, 2012

By DEAN SHALHOUP

Staff Writer

MONT VERNON – Votes on two budget-reduction amendments, which ultimately failed, and an animated back-and-forth on the virtues of the Senate Bill 2 secret ballot election format dominated last week’s School District Deliberative Session at the Village School.

In the end, the final draft of the proposed $4.89 million fiscal 2012-13 budget – which is roughly $24,000 less than the version presented at the January public hearing – was placed on the warrant unchanged, and now goes to voters for consideration at the March 13 election.

The budget represents a roughly $193,000, or 4.1 percent, increase over the current operating budget. If passed, it would add $1.58 per $1,000 of valuation to next year’s property tax bills. That comes to a $474 increase per year for a home assessed at $300,000, and a $632 jump for one assessed at $400,000.

Should the budget be voted down, a default budget of roughly $4.79 million would take effect. The default budget reflects an increase of about $95,000 over the current budget, a roughly 2 percent increase.

Resident Tom McKinney, who described the Village School’s teacher-to-student ratio as comparatively low and its cost-per-student expenditure considerably higher than average, proposed an amendment to cut the budget’s bottom line by $115,000.

“It’s great our students are in the top 25 percent in the state NECAP (testing) results, but with this kind of expenditure per student, we should be in the top 5 percent,” he told the School Board, district officials and the roughly 50 residents present at the Feb. 8 meeting.

The ensuing show-of-hands vote failed, after which Bill Archibald, chairman of the district Budget Committee, which unanimously opposes the budget, moved an amendment to strike $75,000 from the bottom line. But after firm assurance from board Chairman Kim Roberge that the board has “done due diligence to the town and taxpayers” by “going through the budget line by line by line …” Archibald withdrew the motion.

He then moved to reduce the budget by $40,000, an amendment that was put to a secret ballot vote but also failed, 28-23.

Article 5, which proposes rescinding voters’ 2010 adoption of the SB2 format, drew spirited comments from both supporters and opponents. McKinney, one of the architects of the petition that put the question on the 2010 ballot, once again laid out his case for keeping SB2, citing his belief that it increases transparency and encourages more voter participation.

Board member John Quinlan reiterated his staunch opposition to SB2.

“I don’t believe it is a good thing for a cash-strapped, small town like Mont Vernon,” he said. “Democracy is not easy. If you want to make a difference, yo have to pay attention, you have to listen. Mont Vernon is a cohesive town that can come to a consensus” on the issues, Quinlan said.

The question will be on the March ballot.

Two other articles – Article 3, which calls for $32,800 to fund the first year of the three-year agreement between the district and Mont Vernon Education Association; and Article 6, which proposes up to $15,000 be added to the school property maintenance fund if there’s a surplus in the undesignated fund on July 1 – drew little comment and also went on the warrant unchanged.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 303, or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.

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