STAMFORD, Vt. -- A revised Stamford School budget with $60,662 in cuts will be subject to a special town meeting vote after the School Board approved a motion to progress with the new budget Thursday night. The meeting is tentatively scheduled for May 14.
Jim Sarkis, vice chairman of the School Board, rounded out nearly two hours of discussion with a suggestion to "put it in the town's hands," and, if necessary, go back to the drawing board.
"We've spoken to the teachers and the people who usually come to our meetings, and most of them are indicating this as the way to move forward," Sarkis said. "I think that's what we should do."
The proposed budget totals $1,678,575 and is an increase of 8 percent from last year's budget. If passed, the tax rate stands to drop to around $1.09 per thousand dollars of valuation from last year's $1.13. The originally proposed budget was struck down by town voters at the school district's annual meeting March 5, but the School Board was given no direction regarding what to cut from the budget.
"Having cut the $60,000, we need to present it to the town. They're reasonable people and they can respect that," Sarkis said.
The meeting, attended by more than 25 teachers and townspeople, became contentious at times. The staff's primary concern was a cost-saving proposal to cut one kindergarten teacher and utilize principal Beth Choquette as a part-time administrator, part-time teacher.
"This decision ultimately has to be about the kids, and I don't see how replacing a highly-qualified teacher with someone who's never taught kindergarten before is beneficial to the kids," special education teacher Anette Czarnecki said.
The current budget proposal includes a full-time principal position. The $60,662 in cuts came by nixing one proposed paraprofessional position, repairs and maintenance, supplies, books and periodicals, technical equipment and a number of other miscellaneous items.
Some School Board members expressed concerns over the budget lacking "long-term annual savings" and worried about the school having similar difficulties next year. However, Sarkis pointed out that a large percentage of the budget increase -- over $140,000 -- is due to the unusually high total of 48 Stamford students attending high school this year. Because Stamford lacks a high school, the town foots the bill for these students' tuition each year. Sarkis pointed out that significant savings will be realized over the next five years, as this number will drop into the 30s.
According to Sarkis, if the town votes against the budget again, the board "still has ample time to come up with another budget."
Chairwoman Cynthia Lamore stressed the need to be "fiscally responsible to the town," and School Director Duncan Honig agreed, reminding attendees that board members were appointed by the town and not the school. According to Lamore, a directive from Gov. Peter Shumlin advised all boards to keep budgets within a three percent margin increase.
"Regardless of how the proceedings play out, I hope we can put these differences aside and focus on the kids," Sarkis said.
To reach Phil Demers, email firstname.lastname@example.org.