With the re-vote of the Barre Unified Union School District budget just around the corner, we would like to ask voters to support our students and support our schools by sending in absentee ballots or voting in person on May 11 in both Barre Town and Barre City.
There has been a lot of discussion at the finance committee and the full school board level about why the budget was defeated in March, but we have no clear answers. We have heard from community members who feel our spending needs to be reined in and we have heard from others simply upset with the way our hybrid learning was rolled out earlier in the school year.
To address the first of these two specific concerns, the board has reduced the expense budget to $46,777,954, which equates to $15,554 per pupil spending and a 3.41% increase over last year’s per pupil spending. While the board has heard the concerns that the increase is too much, we would ask voters to consider that 75% of the increase is due to the statewide health insurance agreement for our teachers and paraeducators, as well as their wages and other benefits. This statewide agreement for health insurance is negotiated for all teachers in every district across the state. We have had to absorb larger than usual increases due to this agreement, as well as the continued increase in health insurance premiums.
Another major driver of the remaining 25% of the increase is the building voters approved in March 2020 to house our SEA program. This is an investment in our alternative programs that will provide both benefits to students and taxpayers by keeping more of our own students in our district, rather than having to place them at very expensive outside programs.
We recognize the challenges our students have faced with remote or hybrid learning over the course of the past year. Many students are not at the level they should be and we know we will need to have all-hands-on-deck to assist all of our students in the fall, when we hope we are able to return to five days of full-time school. This revised budget reflects that assumption by keeping all staff and programs in place. By making drastic cuts to staff or programs to reduce the overall budget, we will be dramatically impacting our students when they need the support the most.
As for the second concern raised about the roll out of hybrid learning or return to in-person learning, we have done our best to work within the guidelines from the Agency of Education, while recognizing the limitations of our space and the size of our student body. With the recent changes to social distancing guidelines, we are happy that all students, K-12, are back at school five days a week.
We recognize this has been a challenging year for everyone, including parents, staff and most importantly, students. We appreciate the continued dedication of our staff, the flexibility and assistance from parents, and the perseverance of our students.
As members of the BUUSD board, we will continue to do our best to provide the resources our students need and deserve. You can do your part by supporting our schools and our students by voting on the budget now with an absentee ballot or in person on May 11.
The Barre Unified Union School Board: Sonya Spaulding, Alice Farrell, J. Guy Isabelle, Gina Akley, Tim Boltin, Renee Badeau, Chris Parker, Sarah Pregent, Abigayle Smith.