Vernon voters approve budget in third referendum; $1 million returned to schools

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Thu., Jun. 6, 2013
Superintendent of Schools Mary Conway and administrators had made recommendations of which items could be funded if the $1 million was restored to the schools' budget, at the Vernon Board of Education's meeting the night before the town's third referendum. Photos by Steve Smith.
Superintendent of Schools Mary Conway and administrators had made recommendations of which items could be funded if the $1 million was restored to the schools' budget, at the Vernon Board of Education's meeting the night before the town's third referendum. Photos by Steve Smith.

Vernon voters approved a 2013-14 spending plan of $82.7 million on June 4, after a budget failed to pass at two previous referenda. The final vote was 1,309-1,082, with 2,391 of the town's 15,000 registered voters turning out – 1,466 and 1,658 votes were cast in the May 7 and May 21 referenda, respectively.

The final budget included $1 million which was previously cut by the Town Council from the Board of Education's budget of $50.5 million. While the two political parties differed on cuts or additions to the budgets, it was the voter surveys at the polls that led to the re-installment of the school funding. Both parties encouraged voter turnout and urged approval of the spending plan.

“In fact, this is a historic victory,” Democratic Town Committee Chair Bill Dauphin said, in an e-mail to DTC members on May 29, as well as in a subsequent press release. “Now it’s up to Vernon voters to secure this victory by passing the budget at next Tuesday’s referendum, so Vernon can begin to look to the future.”

A crowd of about 100 school supporters had showed up for a rally on the Town Green before a Town Council meeting on May 28, and many of them spoke at the meeting in favor of returning the school funding. Five Democrats and four Republicans voted to increase the Board of Education budget by $1 million, marking the first time in memory that a budget has been increased after failing at referendum.

After the referendum passed, Democratic Town Councilman and mayoral candidate Tom DiDio issued a statement. “By supporting this historic increase in funding education, we have made a statement that we will not stand for mediocrity but expect the very best from our schools,” DiDio's statement read. “This must be looked at as a significant start in our quest to return Vernon to being one of the premier educational systems in the state. This will significantly help our housing values and ultimately improve our tax base.”

At a meeting of the Vernon Board of Education on June 3, the board discussed line items from its budget that had been cut, and restored several for a total of $1 million, with the caveat that those measures would take effect only upon the referendum's passing.

All-day kindergarten was one of the largest slices of that sum. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mary Conway suggested that the funding for all-day kindergarten for two schools – Northeast and Maple Street Schools – be funded by the town at a cost of $189,000 for the necessary teachers, but that the board use Alliance District grant monies from the state, which the town will receive for the next four years, to fund kindergarten at the remaining three elementary schools.

“My fear is that relying 100 percent on a grant... you know what happens when it falls of the cliff in three years,” Conway said, adding that she suggests phasing in the remaining schools to the town's budget over the next three years.

Board member Kyle Percy spoke in favor of having all of the all-day kindergarten funded by the Alliance grant.

“This year, with all the cuts we've already made, I'd be willing to leave that all to Alliance money, and pull that $189,000 out, so we'd have that to disperse to other positions and so forth,” he said, “and start the phasing in over the next few budgets.”

Council member David Kemp responded. “I think our priority has been, is, and will be implementing all-day kindergarten, and protecting it,” Kemp said. “And the best way to protect it is through the budgetary process, by putting as much of it in the hard budget as possible.”

The board ultimately voted to restore the $189,000 by a vote of 5-2.

The board voted to re-install a teacher at Center Road School, as well as a district art teacher. It also approved two secretary positions at Vernon Center Middle School and secretaries at Rockville High School. Among other line items approved were $143,000 for textbooks, $61,693 for a painter, $14,072 for paint supplies and $20,000 for supplies, as well as $100,000 that was returned to the health insurance accounts.


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