Springfield School Board defends budget cuts

Update, Feb. 5, 2021: There was a typo in the the per pupil spending. The correct number is $18,324 per pupil.


SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – The Springfield School Board held a virtual meeting Jan. 19 and voted to approve Warrant Article 4, which calls for a budget of $32,431,509 for the ensuing fiscal year with education spending of $18,324 per pupil and is 3.87% lower than spending for the current year.

The board approved Article 5, which allows the district to create an operating expense fund with an initial transfer of $400,000 from the district’s fiscal year 2020 surplus to be under the control of the Board of School Directors, for the purpose of paying operational expenses that were not anticipated at the time of the budget preparation. Richard Pembroke, the board’s CFO, said that figure includes a combination of the reduction of teachers and in unemployment and said it is rare to have a fund balance come out of a prior year that can both reduce your taxes in next fiscal year as well as set money aside to help reduce taxes in future years. He called it a tax stabilization reserve. It allows the board to create some stability for the taxpayers, that their taxes are going to be relatively flat for a few years into the future. He said the budget was increased by $92,000 but there is actually a 1.85% reduction overall.

The board also approved the motion to move Articles 1, 2 and 3 to an Australian ballot.

But the topic of the virtual meeting that drew the participation and concern of educators and parents was the 4-1 vote by the board to approve a motion to reduce the teaching positions from full-time to part-time for the art, music, and physical education programs. Jeanice Garfield was the no vote.

The meeting began with a lengthy presentation of academic metrics collected through recent student assessments, but it switched focus immediately thereafter to the contentious subject of budget cuts to these three programs.

Superintendent Zack McLaughlin said the decision to cut the programs offers a reduction in the amount of money to be moved over to the reserve account and offers the community a $.0125 reduction in the actual homestead rate. In dollars, these program cuts amount to $114,427. In people, this translates to three half time teachers across the district.

McLaughlin said, “I would love to be in the position to offer individualized education to every student…but I’m obligated to live within the budget.”

As an educator he said he did agree with some of the discussions but said he worries a lot about the relationship and credibility within the community in terms of the utilization of funds provided and said he didn’t think he could defend to a taxpayer the number of students taking advantage of these courses right now.

Nicole Awwad, high school academic resource teacher, said the most vulnerable students are either in her classroom or come to visit to use her room’s “quiet spaces.” She said she understood the “balancing the budget kind of game” and knows everyone is in a difficult position but said, “We do have the power to figure this out together and try to find some other place and rally around the kids.” She added poor students in the community are unable to afford these opportunities, but these programs allow them to use great equipment and be taught by great teachers.

Heather Rigney and her husband have two high school students who are exclusively remote learning. Mrs. Rigney said, “We’ve been talking about the isolation due to Covid and about their disconnection from the school, peers, and teachers in this time of great need.” She said reducing these programs will have a profound effect on students who look forward to returning to classrooms in the spring.

Mr. Rigney told the board, “It always comes back to the numbers…Let’s talk about the numbers. Let’s talk about the last two years your budget has been voted down. It’s been voted down because people haven’t liked what you’ve been proposing.” He said this budget would fail. “I’m not going to support a budget that is going to cut my children’s arts and music.” He said it does nothing but hurt the community and the children.

Resident Donna Batista Young said these programs span the generations with long-lasting and positive impacts and continue to be a draw for families looking to send their kids here. She wondered how much the town was really saving in the overall budget versus the negative impact that could be long-lasting. “Our children are all watching us now and watching the decisions we are making for their futures,” Young commented. “The choices that we make shows them what we value as a community and as a society.”

Vice chair Michael Griffin said he doesn’t see this as a proposal intended to nor will it hurt the students. He said what gets reduced has very little actual impact on the actual class offerings and there are the Cosmos U opportunities – independent studies – that allows any shortfalls in the classes where students can design coursework that both interests them and meets their needs.

Chair Palmer said he has two middle age students, and they are both actively involved in band, arts, and sports and PE. He said, “I did not make this decision lightly. I looked at the data and it was based on everything we covered.”

The board adjourned to go into executive session and Superintendent McLaughlin thanked everyone and said, “This is hard…it is gut wrenching…If there was a blank check to do all that, we would handle it differently.”

The warrant articles as approved will be presented at Town Meeting for a town wide vote.

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