Andover voters question GMUSD school budget during Town Meeting

School board member Joe Fromberger takes questions on Act 46 and the GMUSD budget. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Questions about education – budgets, taxes and board representation – took up the majority of the two-hour Andover town meeting on Saturday, March 3. The turnout was a bit sparser than recent meetings and, as usual, gray was the dominant hair color.

Maddie Bodin was elected to replace Jean Peters, who had decided not to seek re-election to the 3-year Select Board seat.

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As expected, seeing the budget for the new Green Mountain Unified School District, which combines the Green Mountain Union High School, Cavendish Town Elementary and Chester-Andover Elementary spending plans, did cause some confusion.

Attendees who last year voted on a $6 million high school budget and a $3.5 million elementary school budget will be confronted with a $12.5 million consolidated budget at the polls on Tuesday, March 6 and many wondered if spending had risen if taxes would be going up or down.

Andover will vote by Australian ballot on Tuesday, March 6 on the proposed GMUSD school budget and the River Valley Tech Center budget at Town Hall, 953 Andover Road. The polls will be open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“In the past, we’ve had a school representative to answer questions,” said Carmen Macchia, “is there one here today?” In fact, former Superintendent Bruce Williams attended several town meetings before retiring in 2016 and, last year, TRSU Finance Director Christopher Adams fielded questions. Adams is currently on personal leave from his post and no one from the superintendent’s office attended this year.

Andover will vote by Australian ballot on Tuesday, March 6 on the proposed GMUSD school budget and the River Valley Tech Center budget at Town Hall, 953 Andover Road. The polls will be open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Moderator Jon Bliss said that Joe Fromberger from the school board was there. Fromberger explained the consolidation of the three schools into one district with one board. He also explained that the current boards will operate the schools until July 1, then wrap up the legal and financial business before dissolving. From July 1, an 11-member board comprised of six representatives from Chester, three from Cavendish and one each from Andover and Baltimore will take over.

Hank Mauti, right, tells the assembly that lumping budgets together gives the schools the chance to hide things.

Green Mountain Union High School board member Hank Mauti objected to those numbers saying that Andover contributes more per student and should have more representation. Pointing to Chester’s majority on the board, Mauti said “one town controls everything.”

Fromberger said that in all the years he has served on school boards, board member have always looked out for what is best for all students.

Mauti also said that the consolidation of the budgets masks what is being spent at each school. “Tell us where our money went,” exhorted Mauti. “Demand a breakdown by school, but their attitude is ‘give us your money and we’ll take care of it,’ There’s things in there they don’t want you to know.”

CAES board member Nikki Olesky told the meeting that the combination of the three merged schools looks like its more expensive, but that it’s about a 1 percent increase. Olesky urged voters to attend school budget meetings.

Fromberger also fielded some questions about the Ludlow-Mt. Holly merger, whether or not students would come to Green Mountain when Black River High School closes in 2020 and if Green Mountain would have to provide transportation.

Fromberger told the meeting that he expected that the high school will see a number of students coming from Ludlow and that the more tuitioned students who come, the greater the educational opportunities  for all at Green Mountain.

He added that the cost of having a bus pick up the students in Ludlow would be far outweighed by the tuition income from those students.

Between meetings, state Rep. Tom Bock told the audience it was “good to be back to reality.”  Bock said  about 500 bills have been introduced in Montpelier this session including a proposal to change the way Vermont finances education by reducing the reliance on residential property tax and adding an income tax to make up the difference. Bock said that he hears a lot of displeasure with the current system and is excited but noted that the devil is in the details.

One resident said that the results of testing used to be included in the school reports but are not there anymore.

Andover Select Board member Chris Plumb told Bock that the Clean Water Act requirements for town roads are unsustainable and need to be fixed.

‘High tech presentation’ and reappraisal

Select board chair Red Johnson uses a vintage overhead projector to explain the town budget.

Select Board chair Red Johnson fired up the overhead projector and got out his transparencies noting that few towns in Vermont would receive such a high tech presentation this year. Johnson explained the town’s budget. He also spoke about an article on the warning that asked if voters would allow the town’s $124,200 surplus to be divided between the Tax Stabilization Fund and the Highway & Bridge Fund, which will be used to replace the High Bridge in a few years at a cost of more than $1 million.

Johnson explained that the Tax Stabilization Fund is a rainy day fund that helps in case of an emergency. Johnson said that the total budgeted expenditures for the next year are $842,476 with $653,897 to be raised by taxes. All of the articles passed without dissent.

Lister Leo Salazar reports on the soon to be released reassessment of property in Andover.

Lister Leo Salazar said that the townwide reappraisal is nearly complete and that early in May property owners will get a report with the new valuations. Salazar said that most properties will see a decrease in value, but that does not mean a decrease in tax since the same amount of money will need to be raised.

Salazar said there are just over 600 houses in town with over half owned by part-time residents.

He urged property owners who are considering a grievance to come to a pre-hearing that will be conducted about two weeks before the grievance day. This will give taxpayers a better understanding of the process and help them decide whether to contest their assessment.

Salazar emphasized that a taxpayer needs proof for why the value of a property is lower than assessed. He also noted that interior inspections – while not required – often help lower the assessment. Of about 80 grievances where there had been no interior inspection a few years ago, 77 assessments were lowered after listers looked inside.

“If we see a foundation, we have to assume there’s  a basement under the house,” said Salazar, “but there are houses in town where there’s ledge in part of the cellar or a crawl space. You can’t tell from outside.”

Other business

Town Clerk Jeanette Haight reads a letter of thanks from outgoing select board member Jean Peters

Fire Warden Alan Plumb asked residents who want a burn permit to call the night before because he is often away from the phone in the mornings.

Town Clerk Jeanette Haight read a letter from outgoing Select Board member Jean Peters who thanked the town for the opportunity to serve, thanked Red Johnson for teaching her the ropes and Chris Plumb, Mark Gordon and Barry Williams for teaching her about things like riprap and grading. 

Moderator Jon Bliss also asked for a moment of silence for those Andover residents who had died since the last town meeting, inviting anyone in the crowd to mention a name of someone they wanted to recognize. Lydia Ratcliff, Ron Parks and Doris Forbes were mentioned.

Moderator1 yearJon Bliss
Treasurer1 yearJeanette Haight
Select Board3 yearsMaddie Bodin
Select Board1 yearChris Plumb
Select Board1 yearRed Johnson
Lister3 yearsLisa Ryan
Tax Collector1 yearJeanette Haight
Auditor3 yearsOPEN
Constable1 yearAl Peters
Agent to Prosecute1 yearJon Bliss
Sexton1 yearHank Mauti
Cemetery Commissioner3 yearsRobert Hale
Moderator, Andover
School District
1 yearJon Bliss
Director, Chester-Andover
Elementary School
3 yearsMonika Olesky
Director, Green Mountain
Union High School Board
3 yearsHank Mauti
Director, Town School Board3 yearsSherry Willumitis
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