BFUHS Board narrowly approves new school budget

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – After initial projections for the new 2021-22 Bellows Falls Union High School budget had been anticipated to be $8.8 million, a potential 11% increase, officials from the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union continued to work towards a better solution. The current school budget is $7.1 million.

After convening and reconfiguring the budget last month – and not through cutbacks, but rather reinserting the numbers without using the state’s education finance template – Superintendent Christopher Pratt and business manager Flora Pagan, along with other district officials, determined that after plugging the numbers into an alternative financial template a much more reasonable result occurred.

The largest increases originally outlined revolved around the areas of special education, wages and benefits, as well as programs provided by the supervisory union including food services and transportation. However, the estimated projections originally proposed were just that – an estimate – and did not include such factors as special education funding that is provided by the state, a figure that officials are still waiting to obtain.

Additionally, not all of the budget changes showed increases, as it was also noted the superintendent’s office spending was down just over 10%, a substantial decrease from last year’s fiscal budget.

When the increased overall budget figures were initially presented, it was a concern simply because the supervisory union’s portion of the budget already showed a substantial decrease from the previous year. Therefore, the largely increased overall numbers seemingly did not add up.

Pagan, who is in her first year as business manager, is credited with showing the creativity to utilize a more flexible financial template as to create the more palpable budget figures and doing so under time restraints.

“I give her credit for getting useful information and building a parallel system on the fly, and in the middle of the budget cycle,” chairman of the budget committee Jack Bryar stated in a recent WNESU budget meeting held via Zoom.

Last week, the final 2020-21 figures were presented to Bellows Falls Union High School Board, which approved the proposed budget. With a narrow 4-to-3 vote, the board approved a budget figure of $7,502,808, which is a 2% decrease from the current budget.

The voters who opposed the budget indicated that it was largely because the Vermont Agency of Education had not yet provided needed budget information, which still creates a question about how local taxes will be affected.

There is also a concern that teachers and staff are currently working without a contract, and the new budget also needs to include funds to reimburse those salary increases. An official decision on the budget has to be made until the last day of finalizing a Town Meeting, which is Jan. 21.

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