OVUU Board to offer 1% cut on proposed budget


BRANDON—At its meeting on Tuesday, April 2, the Otter Valley Unified Union (OVUU) School Board voted 5 to 2 to cut $268,751.13 from the proposed $27,247,823 FY2025 budget that was defeated on March 5.  The new proposed budget of $26,979,072 will be put before district voters on Tuesday, April 30.

The reduction of $268,751.13 represents a 1% cut.  The specific budget items being cut are a “late run” afterschool bus for the Middle School, the Nordic ski team, the Dean of Students position at Neshobe, and $164K in assessments from OVUU to RNESU for its share of certain district expenses, such as special education, mental health professionals, and transportation.

The Board debated whether to pursue deeper cuts but settled on 1% in the belief that deeper cuts would have unacceptable consequences for educational quality.  RNESU Finance Director Brenda Fleming had also prepared a 3% reduction proposal that would have eliminated world languages from elementary education and consolidated classrooms at Neshobe and Lothrop, among other cuts.

“We couldn’t do that to our students,” said OVUU Chair Laurie Bertrand.

Board member Barbara Ebling echoed the sentiment, stating that the board could “not in good conscience” strip so much from the budget.

“I want people to know what’s going away when taxes are cut,” said board member Fernanda Canales, who was once principal of Salisbury School in Addison County.  “3% is a hardship on the system.”

OV student Brendan McLoughlin, who serves as student representative to the OVUU board, called demands for steeper cuts “hypocritical” (see Mr. McLoughlin’s editorial in this week’s issue, co-written with OV student Jazmin Rivera, who also served as a student rep to the board.)

Not all board members were in favor of the 1% cut, however.  Board member Kevin Thornton, who ultimately voted against the new proposal, questioned whether 1% would appease voters.  Mr. Thornton even suggested that the board forgo its annual stipend (approximately $19K), though Ms. Fleming noted that the stipends had already been approved at Town Meeting.

The defeated budget had already been reduced by $500K in an attempt to meet the statutory guidelines in Act 127, which had guaranteed a 5% cap on property-tax increases in districts that kept budget increases under 10%.  OVUU had cut staff positions to get below that 10% benchmark and more staff cuts for an additional 3% reduction were not acceptable to the board.

The state legislature, however, later repealed the 5% cap when it became concerned that some districts whose budget increases would have been significantly less than 10% were inflating their budgets because the state had guaranteed the 5% cap.  OVUU, however, had struggled to make cuts to stay below the 10% mark.  

Now, the district is left with a budget that already represents steep cuts and which still might be too high for voters.

A 1% cut represents an average annual tax savings of $13.60 per $100K of assessed property value across the OVUU district.  So, for example, a taxpayer whose home is assessed at $200K would likely realize annual savings of $27.20.  A taxpayer whose home is assessed at $300K would likely realize annual savings of $40.80.  The actual amounts will vary from town to town within the district but will more or less align with these numbers.

If the proposed school budget fails again on April 30, the board will be forced to make additional cuts.  It must continue to propose budgets until one is approved by voters. In the meantime, the district is legally allowed to borrow up to 87% of its previous year’s budget to keep schools open, should a new budget not pass before the end of the current year’s budget.

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