Town Meeting presents new revenue source and prekindergarten proposal

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – The Springfield Town Meeting began Monday, March 2 with Boy Scout Troop 252 presenting the flags and leading in the Pledge of Allegiance in the Springfield High School cafeteria. Town and School District Moderator Patrick Ankuda began the meeting with a moment of silence for members of the community who had passed away in the last year, including former town manager and state representative Robert Forguites. Later in the meeting, Selectboard Chair Kristi Morris also announced that Ankuda is stepping down from moderator after this year. Ankuda received a standing ovation.

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This year’s Town Meeting included 31 articles, of which 27 would be voted on by Australian ballot Tuesday, March 3. Article 5, the town budget for fiscal year 2021, amounted to $12,612,404, of which $10,025,386 would be raised by taxes. This is a 3.48% increase over last year.

“There are only two ways of lowering taxes,” Chair Kristi Morris said in presentation of the budget, “cutting services or increasing the grand list.” He went on to say that a focus of the Selectboard this year was increasing revenue.

A new net revenue source that the town is introducing July 1, 2020 is a non-emergency medical transport through the Fire Department. Fire Chief Russ Thompson created the business plan for the program. The department will be purchasing a new ambulance this year and will retain their trade-in ambulance to be used for the transport service.

The Selectboard recognizes that there is a growing demand for this service in town and estimate $124,397 will be generated in revenue. Morris explained that the revenues from the service would more than cover the expected pay for the per diem staff needed to support the service.

Resident and executive director of SEVCA Stephen Geller asked whether the Selectboard was confident in the revenue source from the transfer program and if they had any contingencies.

Morris said that Thompson made “a conservative plan based on numbers and research he did with other agencies” who provide similar services. Thompson is optimistic that $124,397 is obtainable and, if service is successful, that revenue could increase. As for contingencies if the service is underutilized, Morris explained that all transport is scheduled and the staff is only paid per diem. They are not full-time staff members and do not receive benefits.

Article 7 allotted $700,000 for repaving and road construction projects. Sixteen roads are part of the proposed paving plan for 2020. Similarly, in Article 8, the Selectboard asked voters to appropriate $100,000 to start plans for sidewalk reconstruction. This money would be used to do studies, create a priority list, and seek grant funding where applicable.

After some discussion about the different town budget items, the Springfield School District Board and Superintendent Zach McLaughlin presented Articles 14 and 15 that pertained to their budget of $32,654,523 for the 2020-2021 school year.

Before presenting the budget, McLaughlin noted that the sale of the Park Street School was completed and that a goal of the district was to use existing space and not purchase a new building. He also noted that Union Street School did see mid-year position shifts, and that the district was also including wrestling and indoor track as full varsity sports.

As for the school district budget, McLaughlin explained that health insurance is now fixed across the state and that the district saw a $500,000 increase in healthcare costs. Statewide, special education funding is one of the more expensive budget items, as more students need increased services. Article 15 offered a potential solution to address special education costs.

The Springfield School District is seeking to allocate $125,333 to establish full-time prekindergarten classes at Elm Hill School for 30 students. The budget funds would be supplemented by federal funding of $200,000 per year for three years. This program would service a mix of children with and without special education needs. The goal of the program is to address student needs early so that fewer students will need paraprofessionals and special education programs later on.

With the addition of the prekindergarten classrooms at Elm Hill, second grade students would be shifting over to Union Street School and fifth graders would be shifting to Riverside Middle School.

Geller, speaking at the executive director of SEVCA, commented that he was in support of the school district budget but he was wary of “unintended consequences” of the new program. SEVCA currently operates a Head Start early education program in Springfield. If they do not service a certain number of children, they could lose financial support, which could impact the operations of their program.

McLaughlin replied that the proposed public prekindergarten would not be a universal program and would only accept 30 children so there is still a need for the other services in the area. Both programs would be offering “a menu of options” to area families. The school district would also continue all their early education programs with the private providers to help children transfer seamlessly into the school system.

Representatives from the community organizations seeking funding from the town also took turns speaking to voters about the services they provide the town and their need for funding in the fiscal 2021 year. All of those articles as well as the town budget, school budget, and election of officers took place Tuesday, March 3 by Australian ballot at Riverside Middle School. The Shopper will report later this week on the results of those votes.

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