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Viewpoint

ConVal voters face small increase and big potential

Soon after graduating from college back in the 1980s, I remember going to vote in local elections and not really knowing much about the issues on the ballot. As I got older and had a child attending school, I became much more aware of the town and school budget. Even after my daughter leaves the local school system to go on to college, I will continue to keep aware of town and school budgets and to vote each year. It is important to our community and our society for all of us to be informed citizens and to support our local institutions.

The annual budget planning process is well underway for the ConVal School District. We understand that taxpayers’ willingness to raise the necessary money is an important reason why the ConVal School District is able to provide a high quality education for our children. We also understand that having a top ranked school system is likely to attract more families and businesses to our region.

So the question has been asked about how the school district budget was developed. Initially, in the fall, the SAU staff was given some guidance by the members of the School Board about what they wanted in terms of a budget. For example, this year, we were asked to show three options: what the default (baseline) budget would look like, what a “make do” budget would look like, and finally what a budget would look like that kept the district advancing and better meeting students’ educational needs.

Beginning in early fall, the administrative staff requested information from teachers and other staff members about projected needs for buildings and classrooms. In addition, information on facilities, technology, and curriculum renewal was gathered to help assign budget priorities and budget needs. In November, the School Board met with the administrative staff for an all-day budget work session where the budget was presented, and questions about the budget were raised and addressed. Some changes were made at that time, and additional meetings were scheduled to address particular budget areas and topics, for example, band uniforms, technology, related services staffing questions, and facility needs. After these meetings, the final budget was ready to present.

The next step is to make sure as many residents were aware of the budget as possible. We think it is important that anyone who wants to know about the budget can find the information they need to become more knowledgeable. For that reason, we created a section on the ConVal District website (www.conval.edu) dedicated to information regarding the budget. Here you can find details about the regular budget, the default budget, enrollment numbers and the difference between the operating budget percent increase and the percent increase on district assessment. We want our electorate to be well informed.

So, as we begin the new calendar year, what is the status of the 2014-2015 ConVal School District budget? The overall increase to the gross operating budget is less than 1 percent (0.98 percent), while the increase to the district assessment would be approximately 3.13 percent (although the given rate for an individual town may be different). Many people wonder how the increase in the operating budget and the increase in district assessment are different. The basic answer is that when monies are returned to towns (either due to left over budget funds or unexpected revenues – in this case monies were returned to the school district due to Local Government Center refunds), the tax rate and district assessment are artificially reduced for a short period. Since the additional revenue we received from the Local Government Center is not expected to occur again, the amount needed to raise from taxation goes up even though the operating budget may be flat or lower.

I thank our citizens for their attention to school issues (budgetary and otherwise). Your involvement in our democracy helps our current and future generations to succeed.

Brendan Minnihan is the superintendent of the ConVal School District. He lives in Greenfield.

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