Taconic & Green board addresses school spending, March 6 vote

By Bruce Frauman
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

About 100 residents from the nine towns that compromise comprise the Taconic and Green Regional School District gathered in the gym at Flood Brook School in Londonderry last Tuesday, Feb. 27, for that board’s first annual meeting.

School articles to be voted on on March 6. Click the image to enlarge.

They were there to discuss school articles that will be voted on Tuesday, March 6 by the towns of Londonderry, Weston, Landgrove, Peru, Manchester, Sunderland, Danby, Mt. Tabor and Dorset, all served by the five K-8 schools within the new T&G school district. (See image left.)

Jackie Wilson, superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union, which oversees T&G,   said the T&G board is “progressive … committed … engaging, they challenge each other, they challenge me. They have the exact mind set needed to support our kids and have developed a nearly $32 million budget and passed about 50 policies.”

Wilson said the T&G RSD comprises 75 percent of the students within the BRSU. The other districts are the newly formed Mettawee School District with Pawlet and Rupert, which operates the Mettawee Community School, and the Winhall School District, which does not operate a school, but may continue as a stand-alone within the BRSU because its was unable to merge with any other school districts because of its high tax rate.

Article 2 would approve the $17,065
tuition rate of Burr and Burton Academy.

Of the six school articles are to be voted by Australian ballot Tuesday, Article 2 would approve the $17,065 tuition rate of Burr and Burton Academy, which is a private high school these students can choose to attend in the 2018-2019 school year. The other schools are Green Mountain Union in Chester and Leland & Gray in Townshend.

Mark Tashijan, BBA headmaster, addresses the costs of education at the school.

Mark Tashijan, headmaster of BBA, said BBA accepts almost every student who applies so the range of IQ, interests and aptitude is “all over the map … If you have grit, if you have perseverance, you will succeed … So we try to instill that and reinforce that in our students.” He added that the school offers more than 170 different courses so every student can find courses that inspire them and develop their passions.

The tuition of $17,065 is 2.2 percent increase from last year, just below Gov. Phil Scott’s request that tuition increases be held to a maximum of 2.5 percent. Teachers salaries are up 2.8 percent this year, with the difference being made up though fundraising. Tashijan said about $1 million is raised each year for the Annual Fund, which goes directly to operations; $700,000 is drawn annually from the endowment, and 75 international students provide about $2.5 million each year in tuition. In addition, Tashijan said, BBA raises “millions and millions” of dollars for capitol expenses.

Margarite Mason, a retiree, said BBA offers too many “bells and whistles” that raise her tax rate. She added, however, that no one questions that BBA is “an unbelievably wonderful school.” Mason said the taxpayers would be happier if the school were a little bit cheaper. Tashijan said he would not back down from his “extraordinary ambition” for the school and students.

Resident Derek Boothby says BBA students are impressive.

Derek Boothby, also a retiree, said he has been quite impressed by BBA students.

Board chair Herb Ogden centered his remarks on the other articles and the calculation that led to the Residential Adjusted Equalized Tax Rate of $1.617 and the budget request of nearly $32 million. (Article 3 on the ballot). The actual tax rate for each town is modified by a state developed Common Level of Appraisal, which is a correction factor based on comparing “the ration of Grand List value to sales price for all the arms-length sales in the town over the prior three year period,” according the the T&G Annual Report. Also, Act 46 set a limit of a 5 percent tax rate increase each year for each town.

Many towns in the T&G, including the Mountain Towns RED, used school reserve funds to reduce education spending in fiscal 2018 to reduce the towns’ tax rate. Combining these adjustments, Londonderry’s expected tax rate is $1.405 and Weston’s is $1.583. The final tax rate depends on the Property Yield, the amount the state expects each $1 in tax rates to raise, which has not yet been approved by the legislature. Each household’s tax rate depends on income sensitivity provisions in the tax law, according to Ogden.

Superintendent Jackie Wilson addresses the audience of about 100.

A member of the audience  asked what the K-8 per pupil spending amount is. BRSU business manager Sue Wilborn estimated this to be about $14,000. Boothby asked for explanations for the 8.4 percent increase in the Office of Superintendent and the 7.7 percent increase in Extracurricular/Enrichment line items in the combined budget shown in the Annual Report. Wilson said the Office of Superintendent took advantage of $70,000 in surplus funds available last year, but that are no longer available. Wilson said some schools had programming not available in other schools. For all schools to have equal opportunity, these programs were added to the schools lacking them.

Mason asked if the board used a “sharp pencil” to develop the budget. Board member Jay Ouelette said he was looking for the best value for the students, not necessarily the least expensive option.

State results of integrated field review

Wilson said that last fall the BRSU underwent an integrated field review, which is a new way for the state Agency of Education to evaluate schools. Teams observed activities at each of the five schools and interviewed administrators, teachers, parents and students.

K-8 principals were introduced: From left, Marty and Irene Nadler, co-principals of Manchester Elementary and Middle, Rosanna Moran of the Dorset School, Caroline Parillo of the Currier Memorial in Danby, Skyler LaBombard of Sunderland Elementary and Neal McIntyre of Flood Brook.

“They said we provide a wide range of opportunities for students to exercise their voice and their choice,” Wilson said, adding, “They said our schools are described as welcoming, well maintained and described as safe by all stakeholders.” In addition, the report said the coordination between the schools was strong and the schools use data- driven improvement plans that drive the work of the schools and the whole SU.

“Because we are one entity now,” Wilson said, schools have the opportunity for innovative programs such as in-district school choice for 7th and 8th graders, meaning that students will be assigned a school based on their home location, then given an opportunity to apply to another school in the district. If more students apply to a school than there is capacity, a lottery will determine who gets in.

Other options, according to Wilson, are for a school to specialize in specific fields such as arts or STEM — science technology, engineering and mathematics.

Herb Ogden, chair of the T&G board.

Wilson also addressed Proficiency Based Learning and Positive Behavior Intervention,  to “firm up the social community of our kids.” Educationally, the focus of all five schools has been early literacy with a goal of having all students read at grade level by the time they leave 3rd grade. Wilson said schools are moving toward Proficiency Based Learning, to have kids be problem solvers, be self-directed, be excellent communicators, and innovators so they can reinvent themselves. The way of reporting will be changing from letter grades (A, B, C etc.), but the new format has not yet been determined.

The state Agency of Education and the state Board of Education set the Educational Quality Standards, which is mandating the change toward PBL.

Asked about meeting notices, Ouelette said he posts a Facebook page under the Taconic and Green Regional School District Board listing all meetings.

For fiscal year July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019, those gathered elected former state Rep. Oliver Olsen as moderator, Rebecca Norath as the School District Clerk and Tammy Heaton as the School District Treasurer. The $1,500 salary of the School District Clerk was approved as well as the $300 salary for the School District Treasurer.

The 2019 Annual Meeting was set for 7 p.m. Tuesday Feb. 26, 2019 at Manchester Elementary Middle School. T&G Board member Dick Dale said that the intent is to move the Annual Meeting from one school to another from year to year. Copies of the Annual Report are available from the clerks in each of the towns.

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