School budget passes by 73 votes

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth put her hand on her chest and audibly exhaled Tuesday night upon hearing that the Williston School District budget passed.

The $15.69 million budget passed 668-595 (53 percent-47 percent), a margin of 73 votes. The budget proposed on Town Meeting Day – roughly $287,000 larger – received support from 44 percent of voters. Town Meeting Day had a higher turnout.

“A huge thanks to all the people that did get involved this time,” Worth said of voters who came to School Board meetings in March and April to share concerns and suggestions.

Worth said the board still needs community involvement in the fall, including at four public forums that will be scheduled to study areas for possible further cuts: food service, transportation, class structure, and facilities.

“These won’t be the last cuts,” Worth said. “We do want their involvement to see why the votes are so low.”

Leaving the polls Tuesday, a number of voters who were asked declined to comment on how they voted. Those willing to comment largely had voted in support of it.

“I think they came up with a budget that’s representative of what’s needed,” George Vandevord said. Vandevord and his wife, Caroline Vandevord, both said they supported the budget. The retired couple has lived in Williston seven years.

Parent Kort Longenbach, who’s lived in Williston 13 years, echoed the Vandevords’ sentiments. He said he felt the board had made some reasonable cuts given the time they had, and he supported the budget. However, he advised the board to step further back next year to look at how they can better contain growth so that percentage increases are lower.

“I think the budget growth is somewhat high given everyone else’s income,” Longenbach said. “I think they need to really step back and look at what the key drivers are, be creative about what they can do, look at what some of the external factors are driving the budget.”

Denise Keefe, who’s lived in Williston 50 years, voted no on the budget.

“I hope our message gets through that we’d like teachers to pay more for their health insurance,” she said.

Teachers in Chittenden South Supervisory Union, which includes teachers in Williston, currently contribute 10 percent to their health insurance premiums. That contract expires June 30. Teachers and school board members are currently negotiating a new contract.

Frank Pavlik, 46, supported the budget. He went through Williston schools himself decades ago, as did his kids, who are now in college, he said.

“The school does a good job, and I don’t appreciate protest votes,” Pavlik said. “When they want to try to save something in the pocketbook they vote a school budget down but there are a lot of things that could be addressed besides school budgets to decrease our taxes and our out-of-pocket expenses.”

Norman Rapoport, a Williston resident for 35 years, said he supported the budget because it’s important to support the school system. He added, however, that it didn’t surprise him the budget failed the first time because of high costs. Though Rapoport supported the budget the first time, too, he said it was important to him to see the School Board make an effort to pare it down after it failed.

“If they didn’t make an effort, I think I would have felt otherwise,” he said of his vote of support.

Worth acknowledged she was concerned about how the vote might turn out, but was relieved the School Board can now move forward with other work. She, like several others on Tuesday, commented on the low voter turnout.

Nearly 19 percent of registered voters cast ballots Tuesday, compared with 24 percent in March.

The vote outcome is not final until 30 days from Tuesday’s vote. By state law, voters may request reconsideration of an article within 30 days of a vote by submitting a petition signed by 5 percent of registered voters.