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Bristol school budget passes

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By CYRUS LEVESQUE

BRISTOL — In their third vote on the issue, Bristol voters on Tuesday approved a proposed 2006-2007 Bristol Elementary School budget. The $4,208,820 spending plan passed on a tally of 222-184, prompting school officials to heave a collective sigh of relief.

“It feels wonderful,” said BES Co-principal Jill Mackler. “It has been a long process to reach a budget that the community felt good about supporting, and we got there.”

BES board member Meg Wendel agreed. She felt the board and administration had managed to use the feedback they received well. “It feels very good,” she said. “There was a response to (community input), and it worked.”

Bristol residents on Town Meeting Day in March rejected an elementary school spending plan of $4,211,798 by a mere five votes, 452-447. The school board added some money to the budget proposal, raising the spending plan to $4,292,250, and voters rejected it 193-183 on May 9.

The June 20 spending plan is an increase of less than 1 percent over the current year’s budget of $4,169,150.

Board members believed the March 7 budget proposal was defeated in part because of controversial cuts, the largest of which was getting rid of a classroom teacher position. The cut would be have been achieved by not replacing a teacher who was retiring. So the proposal voted on May 9 added a number of items. It restored the teacher position and included tuition to send a special needs student to Robinson Elementary to take part in that school’s Toward Affective Development (TAD) Program, in addition to some smaller changes.

In the end, however, that resulted in an increase of almost 3 percent over the current year’s spending plan.

To some, that was a clear sign that the changes to the March 7 budget had gone in the wrong direction, or at least that cuts had to be made. At a school board meeting on May 15, board member David Knight expressed surprise that people were even talking about restoring other items that had been cut.

None of the items added between the March 7 budget and the May 9 budget were removed. To create the current budget, cuts were made in several other areas.

A few items budgeted for next school year were moved onto the current budget, which is projected to run a surplus. For example, $12,500 to replace an old tractor and old cafeteria tables will be paid for out of that surplus instead of appearing on the budget for next year.

The other cuts were a reduction of $5,000 in spending for electricity, a reduction of $25,000 to personnel, $24,000 to speech-language pathologist (SLP) services, $2,000 to student services, $3,000 to technology, $1,700 to the principals’ office, $2,500 to fiscal services and $8,000 to school supplies.

Some of those would take a little spending off the top of a broad category. The cut to school supplies, for example, came out of the general budget for supplies that includes everything from crayons to software.

Others were a result of reevaluating the budgeting process. According to Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Evelyn Howard, for several years now the budget estimates have been higher than was necessary in certain areas, like electricity, and the cut is a re-estimation to be more in line with the actual prices over the past few years.

Some of the cuts may have been difficult, but Mackler felt they were worth it. “Nobody ever likes cutting,” she said. But in the end, the cuts were what led to an acceptable budget, she added.

Wendel said the May 9 defeat was also due to low turnout or miscommunication. “I don’t feel like enough people voted,” she said at the May 15 meeting. “We really don’t know why it was defeated. We can guess it was because it was increased, but we don’t know.”

To prepare for the June 20 budget vote, the BES administration and the school board made an effort to increase turnout and awareness of the details of the budget. Signs were put up around Bristol, including a banner over Main Street, and Wendel said the board sent postcards to all residents reminding them of the vote.

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