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Starksboro to revote Robinson school spending plan

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Posted on March 23, 2015 |
By Zach Despart



STARKSBORO — Starksboro residents will be the fourth group of voters in the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union to revote their school budget.

After a group of town residents last week submitted a petition to the school board to force a second vote on the Robinson Elementary School spending plan for the coming fiscal year, the board tentatively scheduled the revote to be held at a May 2 meeting.

Cookie Jennings, who circulated the petition, said she mounted the effort after she and other residents were disappointed that voters increased the size of the school’s budget from the floor of the annual meeting on Feb. 28. She said the subsequent tax rate impact of the spending increase would be onerous.

By law, residents can force a re-vote if they present a petition with the signatures of 5 percent of eligible voters in the town, within 30 days of the original vote. Jennings said the petition needed 62 signatures, but she garnered about 85, just to be safe.

With the Starksboro petition, four of the six ANeSU school budgets will now go back before voters. On Town Meeting Day, voters rejected budget proposals for Mount Abraham Union High School, Monkton Central School and Bristol Elementary School. All of those budgets reflect spending for the fiscal year beginning this coming July 1.

During the Robinson annual meeting Feb. 28, voters approved a spending plan totaling $3.01 million, after passing two amendments to increase the sum from the original $2.81 million proposal. The first amendment, offered by the school board, totaled $58,904 and was necessary because the board had miscalculated the total of the original proposal.

The second amendment, made by resident Kristen Toy, added an additional $136,506, to pay for the salaries of staff due to be laid off under the original budget proposal. Voters approved that amendment by a paper ballot, 84 to 61.

Together, those two additions would replace 2.41 FTEs across six positions.

Jennings said she attended the annual meeting, as she has done every year in her adult life, but said that she believed many more residents would have shown up if they knew a faction of voters would move to increase the size of the Robinson budget.

“We have 1,200 voters (in Starksboro) and we only had about 150 there,” Jennings said. “I felt there were not enough people there that were actually going to pay the taxes. I truly felt like it wasn’t a good representation of what Starksboro voters wanted.”

Jennings said a revote would draw a larger and more diverse group of residents, which she believed would be better equipped to represent the wishes of the entire town than the group that OK’d the first budget.

Jennings said that many voters, if they do not object to the proposed school budget sum, will not come to the annual meeting because they assume the plan will be either approved or decreased. She said this year is the first time she’s ever seen Robinson’s budget increased at the meeting.

The Starksboro school board on this past Thursday evening reviewed the process by which a new vote would be conducted.

At the new meeting, voters will be asked to consider the original proposed budget sum of $2.81 million, not the $3.01 million figure they approved. If they desire, voters must make one or several amendments to change the size of the budget.

Newly elected board member Nancy Cornell wondered if the board should honor the will of voters and make an amendment to raise the budget to $3.01 million. The three-member body will decide that at a later date.

The board also debated when to schedule the revote and ultimately decided on Saturday, May 2, at 9 a.m. They did not officially warn that date, as revotes must be warned between 30 and 40 days preceding the revote date.

ANeSU Superintendent David Adams objected to the date, citing a previous commitment to celebrate his granddaughter’s second birthday in New York state. Board member Dennis Hysko suggested a weekday evening vote would be better attended than a Saturday meeting.

“A lot of people complained about not being able to go on a Saturday,” Hysko said of the original meeting.

After asking for a show of hands among the audience — in which no one supported a weekday meeting and about 10 voters raised their hands for one on Saturday — Cornell and board chair Louis duPont supported a Saturday vote.

At the beginning of the meeting, resident Koran Cousino, who supported increasing the budget at the annual meeting, said she fears voters will be unable to reach agreement on a budget figure at the new meeting.

“I’m afraid a revote will end up in a ‘no’ vote,” Cousino said. “We could end up in the same situation than the other schools in the ANeSU.”

Reporter Zach Despart is at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @zachdespart.

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