Mike Cusick was elected to fill a vacant seat as a director for one year. Rick Thorpe agreed to serve a one year term. Hal Smith and Rep. John Moran were re-elected to additional 3 year terms. Sheri Lewis continues as a school director with a term ending in 2014.
In Article 2, voters were asked if they would authorize the directors to spend unanticipated funds, such as grants and gifts. Thorpe explained to the gathering that one example of unanticipated funds comes from the 21st Century grant. These are federal monies which are spent on afterschool and summer enrichment programs. Up to now, Thorpe explained, the grants made it possible for students to benefit from extra learning without being charged fees, but that in the future, the costs of such programs will require other funding, which might include the need for local support. He said, “Our hope, however, is that programs like these can become self-sustaining.” The vote to approve Article Two was unanimous.
Article 3, which sets the tuition rate per pupil that the town pays for its students to attend Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School in Townshend, or other independent, state-approved middle and high schools, was discussed in some detail, as it has been in years past. Voters wanted to know if parents in Wardsboro had the option to send their children to any school in Vermont, provided they were willing to make up the difference between what the town pays in tuition and what the school charges per student. School superintendent Stephen John pointed out that students sent to parochial schools would not receive tuition funding, emphasizing that the town is only obligated to pay tuition for public schools and state-approved, independent schools. Under state statute, the school district pays the statewide average tuition, set at $13,078 this year, for students attending independent schools. The district pays full tuition for students attending public schools. This year, Leland & Gray’s tuition is estimated at $14,528. Voters unanimously approved Article 3 without amendment.
Before the voters began the discussion on the total budget amount in Article 4, school principal Rosemary FitzSimons gave a short slide presentation about the link between school budgets and the academic achievements of the pupils. She said “After last year’s annual meeting, it was suggested that this might be helpful to voters. We had done presentations such as this at the meeting in years past, but then did not for a while. So we are now doing this again.” The single most important point in her remarks, as supported by the charts she showed, was that since 2007 there has been a sustained improvement in the students’ scores in reading and in mathematics. Based on the NECAP testing, pupils in grades three through six, showed improvements that puts them in the top 10% of all schools in Vermont. FitzSimons said, “And something that I never thought I’d see, this year the students had higher scores in math than in reading.” She added, “And that’s the link to your tax dollars ...kids who will be prepared to go on to college and out into the world with the best skills to succeed.”
Rucker said that in the view of the WCSU, Wardsboro is the “model for other schools in the district, which is something that should make the school and the town very proud.” Dr. John said he commends the school directors for “their commitment and countless hours spent on school business, and for the support that they give to the administrative team at Wardsboro Elementary.”
After rounds of mutual praise, the question of what impact the federal sequester might have on the school department was raised from the floor by voter Mary Jean Landeryou. Rucker said, “We’re not going to be affected as much as larger school districts. It’s an important element, but so far we have been given no guidance on how it will affect us.”
Article 3 passed with a unanimous vote, so the town will pay a tuition rate of $14,528 for students in the upper grades.
Article 4, reached at one hour into the meeting, set the 2013-14 school budget at $2,260,744 to educate a total of 123 students. That breaks down to $1,045,829 for elementary education for 59 students in pre-K and $1,214,915 for secondary education for 64 students in grades seven through 12. The vote was preceded by only a few brief comments from the board about rising health care costs for the professional staff, the reduction in the number of paraprofessionals on the school staff, and the restaffing required for special needs students.
Article 5, electing members to fill the school board’s seats, was completed quickly since the candidates were all unopposed for those seats, and the verbal votes on all four were unanimous. There are currently no vacant seats. Article 6 set the board members’ compensation at $200 each per year. Article 7 set the date and time of the next annual school district meeting for Monday, March 4, 2014 at 6:30 pm at Wardsboro Town Hall. There being no other business to transact under Article 8, the meeting was adjourned at 7:45 pm.