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Vernon's Budgetary Lines Drawn in the Sand

The mayor has dictated a reduction to the school budget, but two Board of Education members are standing their ground.

Mayor George Apel has sent a letter to Superintendent of Schools Mary Conway and Board of Education Chairman Dean Houle indicating they should be prepared to reduce the school board budget request by $1.5 million.

That would leave the increase for the 2013-14 fiscal year at $1,988,790.

The letter was dated Monday. On Friday, the $51,669,787 budget request was delivered to Town Hall. It reflects a funding increase of $3,488,790 - or 7.24 percent - over this year's $48,180,997 spending plan.

The cut by Apel, a former Republican school board member himself, amounts to more than three percentage points off the increase.

Apel attended several school board budget sessions.

"Even with a zero percent increase in spending on the general government side and no decrease in revenue, the BOE budget would result in an overall townwide spending increase of 2.4 percent," Apel wrote.

Two school board members - Republican Chairman Dean Houle and Democratic board treasurer Kyle Percy - did not take the letter lightly.

"The consensus of the board (six of eight voting members endorsed the budget plan and Houle is supporting it) is that this is what we need to move this town ahead," said Houle in a reference to the governor placing Vernon in the bottom 30 performing districts statewide.

Percy said he sent the mayor an e-mail message questioning the cut.

"I'm very angry," he said. "I almost feel like what's the point of having a board of education. We send the budget to you and you cut and cut and cut."

Percy said in the past four years, the school system budget was reduced from the previous fiscal year. The other three years, the increases were 1.51 percent and 3.76 percent and .3, the latter in a year ravaged by health care increases. 

Percy grew up in Vernon and he and his wife attended public schools in town. They are booth 1995 graduates of Rockville High School. He said his daughter starting the sixth grade at Vernon Center Middle School this year was "scary" but so far she has excelled both academically and socially. He said he is torn between his belief that the school system is good now versus a passion to drive it out of the bottom 30 classification.

"This is where we need to improve," Percy said. "Two-thirds of the board members - Democrats and Republicans - voted to send this to the mayor. I am happy with the school system but we have to get out of the state's bottom 30. If not, our property values will go down."

Houle said the $1.9 million increase after Apel's cut "does not even cover contractual obligations."

He also said that all-day kindergarten, a key component to the state's new common core curriculum, would be off the table. Implementation systemwide costs $492,408.

"I am a pretty conservative guy, but we've done everything in our power to make the school system better with this budget," he said. "We're trying to fund public education and the mayor is not giving residents a chance to fund public education."

Magnet school tuition has increased by $200,000 to more than $600,000 in the budget proposal because more and more students are choosing those schools.

"We have to improve, but I think his honor - our mayor - had 4 percent number in his head before we submitted out budget."

Percy said any additional state aid is accounted for. Part of the application process for Alliance District additional aid was to document how each dollar is spent.

Apel is also a Vernon native. He said the town could lose about $1 million in state funding and $5 million if a plan to eliminate taxes on certain motor vehicles is pursued.

He has asked for an outline of how the school board would implement the cuts to use as a guide when the Town Council starts its budget deliberations the third week in March.

Percy and Houle said pubic opinion could also be an outline.

"I'm showing up to the hearings with bells," Percy said. "It's starting to scare me with how much the mayor has cut out. It's not like we're ahead of the game. One and a half million dollars will be detrimental to the school system. The reality is there is no extra in this budget."

Houle said, "Just because we did get the cut doesn't mean it's the end of the road. Yes, historically, money does not get added, but if the parents really want more for their schools there is a possibility - a slim one - that things could change."

William Cole February 12, 2013 at 12:15 PM
Does anyone know exactly how many properties the Town of Vernon currently has for sale? In 2011 the town purchased a distressed property on the corner of West Main at Maple Street. They eventually had the building demolished and back filled the space. I had to chuckle at the height of the blizzard there was a gentleman from a real estate company posting a for sale sign on the lot. I called and left a message for the agent listed on the sign and actually received a call back from a very kind lady on Sunday who informed me the Town was selling the property for $44,500.00. Possibly the Town should focus more on it's school system and hard working public works employees and focus less on spending valuable tax payer dollars to try and FLIP properties. I would be very interested to see exactly just how much money has been spent to date on this property as to the asking price.
Linda Woodrow February 12, 2013 at 01:19 PM
I stand with the BoE on the budget increase. Our schools are not able to stand for status quo or any more cuts. There are valuable services that we use within the school system and I fear those would disappear.
LLC February 12, 2013 at 01:30 PM
How are Vernon residents supposed to afford these increases? I have lived here 15 years and my property taxes have nearly doubled. How are the schools better off with these tax increases? How much more money do they need? Supporters of the BoE budget say we need to improve the schools to attract new residents. But what happens when the current residents can't even afford to live here anymore?
Vernon Taxpayer February 12, 2013 at 02:49 PM
I can understand the concern over loss of revenue from the car taxes and possibly state owned and manufacturing equipment. To try and figure out a budget with the possibility of lost revenue is a difficult task. Somehow we need to figure out where this revenue will come from if we lose it. There is only one place that I know of to recover the loss and this will be the Real Estate. This could be just enough of an increase to put some of our property owners in jeopardy of losing their homes. The Governor needs to leave the car tax and other reimbursed programs intact. These changes he has proposed will hurt the middle class. Contact the Governor to keep these intact. The claim of helping the middle class. How does this help? How can we fund our budgets with these changes? We all need to pay our fair share of taxes and not burden the Real Estate owners with the brunt of taxes.
carl slicer February 12, 2013 at 02:53 PM
Mr Stansel: Would you please explain why the Vernon Taxpayers should have to pay more and go with less themselves. We know this is for the children. But you have not address why an 8% increase is vital.
Laurie Bajorek February 12, 2013 at 03:16 PM
Carl, contractual obligations like teacher salaries and ever increasing healthcare and utilities, plus magnet school tuition (increasing exponentially every year we fail to address our education system - the state requires us to pay this) have not been covered by the BoE budget increases for the last several years. To pay these fixed expenses, money has been taken from our schools and classrooms. We have failed to fund all-day kindergarten for 5(?) years. Technology is severely outdated. The state considers us the 28th worst school district in the state. Every year we fail to fund our schools, this gets worse. Parents are looking at magnet schools, renting in other towns and even walking away from their houses to put their kids in better schools. We can't keep putting this off. The cost will only be higher next year and this is hurting our students now.
GDP February 12, 2013 at 03:17 PM
Carl - part of the issue is the money the town legally HAS to pay for special Ed services, as well as to pay our share of costs to the magnet schools when parents choose to send their children out of district. We were over budget in both of those areas this year. With the perceived substandard education in the town, more parents will choose to send their children elsewhere, or move to towns with more educational opportunities, such as full-day kindergarten, and better technology in all of the schools. If we could convince families to keep their children in-district, then the money we are required to spend on magnet schools could be used in OUR schools. Also, please remember that today's students are our future. If they don't receive an adequate education, who will teach the next generation, or be their doctors, leaders, etc.?
jeff February 12, 2013 at 03:17 PM
If we make our schools better and find more funding for them and cut out the waste and ridiculous overhead of some departments and buildings and the redundancy of management. we would have a chance of not paying magnet schools cause people want to stay here and then we would get that money into our school budget as well.
Paul Stansel February 12, 2013 at 03:23 PM
Mr. Slicer, since I am no longer on the Board I don't really have anything to explain ;) Most of what I know about the budget negotiations is what has been reported here and from those who have attended the public discussions. What I will say is that I believe Chairman Houle and Mr. Percy when they say the Mayor's proposed number would not even cover the contractual obligations. I also know from my own experience that the Town has repeatedly asked the Board to make do with less, even to the point of budget decreases in recent years. Sometimes you have to pay the piper. Full Day kindergarten was eliminated 6 years ago, and if you ask any of the elementary teachers they will tell you the impact is clearly felt. That's what I support restoring and have advocated for it since it first went on the chopping block.
Chris Dehnel (Editor) February 12, 2013 at 03:30 PM
Based on a conversation with school board members last night, the special ed, magnet and other outside tuition obligations run close to $1.5 million.
mom February 12, 2013 at 03:46 PM
Can't believe the $1.5 # Chris spoke of up above..... that is rediculous! We need to get a grip on these items he spoke about! I have 4 kids in the school system and for the older 3 (8,9,12th) I have been proud to send them through Vernon schools and have never been an advocate for magnet schools. I would rather my taxes go to their education in Vernon.....BUT....for my 4th grader I am seriously for the first time thinking about a magnet school!
Karen Yencho February 12, 2013 at 03:51 PM
I agree with the BoE's proposed education budget. School funding needs to be increased as the governor has declared Vernon to be one of the 30 failing school districts in the state. This situation cannot be ignored. My understanding is that a 4% increase will, at best, cover the current costs of running the school. We owe it to the kids to make improvements in Vernon's educational system.
cmmj February 12, 2013 at 03:55 PM
Northeast had 3/4 day kindergarten....I think its perfect.
LLC February 12, 2013 at 04:04 PM
Vernon already spends nearly $11,000 per student. How much more is needed? How can the taxpayers pay for all this?
Paul Stansel February 12, 2013 at 04:11 PM
Based on the Patch number it would raise my property taxes $160/year. Take your current taxes and multiply by 1.024 to see your new number.
LLC February 12, 2013 at 04:51 PM
Are you basing this increase only on the BoE budget, or the whole town budget?
Paul Stansel February 12, 2013 at 04:56 PM
Just on the 2.4% increase that the Mayor said the Board budget request would represent.
LLC February 12, 2013 at 05:26 PM
So if your $160 increase is just on the BoE part of the budget, that means that when the final town budget is passed, your property taxes will increase even more. I'm just wondering how will residents keep affording all these increases. I know I can't anymore.
Michael February 12, 2013 at 05:40 PM
LLC there is always the option of moving. Rather than rant and rave get involved and see where the town is wasting money in other areas
LLC February 12, 2013 at 05:48 PM
I don't think asking questions is "ranting and raving". Shouldn't we ask questions of our government?
Chris Dehnel (Editor) February 12, 2013 at 06:07 PM
Mr. Cole, the Maple Street parcel was just put up for sale. The 13 Morrison St. home just sold for nearly $45,000. The town recently cleared out most of its seizures that were eligible for auction. We'll try to get a number.
George February 12, 2013 at 06:40 PM
I could be wrong but I think the 2.4% increase was based on the BOE budget after the Mayor's suggested cut. If the BOE budget is passed as requested and all other expenditures and income remains even, I believe the tax increase will be closer to 5%. Can someone please check this?
Vernon Taxpayer February 12, 2013 at 11:11 PM
The 2012 Grand list had a decrease, the Governor is talking about taking car taxes away and other state funding. To find the true mil rate increase you would need all of the factors. So the true increase of Real Estate taxes would not be 2.4%.
Bill Dauphin February 13, 2013 at 12:35 AM
A couple points: First, the reason this year's BOE request is as high as it is that Republican administrations have been squeezing money out of the schools for years. In retrospect, we'd l have been better of if they'd passed realistic budgets all along, instead of sacrificing our children (and our property values) for the sake of artificially lower taxes. Second, it's misleading to worry about the loss of car tax revenue driving your taxes up, because YOU WON'T BE PAYING CAR TAXES. For most folks who own cars and homes, I bet it'll be pretty much a wash. Finally, even if Paul's guesstimate is off by a factor of 3, we're realistically talking about an increase of no more than $10/week: Is the cost is a single fast-food meal or couple cups of good coffee really to much to invest in the future of our town?
Vernon Taxpayer February 13, 2013 at 01:57 AM
To understand what will happen when you no longer tax motor vehicles and we lose state funding for exemptions. Let me explain to you what will happen. People who live in an apartment and own a car pay car taxes. If we no longer tax cars this is a loss of revenue. Some manufacturing equipment exemptions and state property are reimbursed to the town. If the exemptions are no longer going to be reimbursed to the town we lose revenue. So in order to make up for the loss you would need to tax the Real Estate and Personal Property at a higher mill rate. So long story short the Real Estate tax and Personal property (Business tax) will absorb the loss in revenue. This would mean an increase of taxes before we even increase the current budget. So where do we look to find the revenue that we will be losing before we even start?
Paul Stansel February 13, 2013 at 02:13 AM
You could be right George, thinking about the percentage of the budget the BoE makes up it doesn't seem logical the 2.4% would be before the Mayor's proposed decrease. I am guessing your 5% estimate is likely much closer, basically doubling the number I threw out above.
my bootstraps. February 16, 2013 at 01:27 PM
People should VOLUNTEER (for free) to make their school communities live up to their standards. In private school, parent volunteers set the course for the school and it's activities. Why keep dumping money into a broken system? Things were not always this way when people held themselves accountable and joined civic and religious organisations to build up their communities THEMSELVES. Where are the children's bake sales? Family fun fairs? When we were kids, we raised money for things ourselves. Seems entitlement is the real issue here, and the lack of community and family volunteers.
Laurie Bajorek February 16, 2013 at 07:21 PM
As a parent, school VOLUNTEER, and attendee at this year's BoE budget workshop meetings, I strongly disagree that entitlement is the issue. Parents ARE involved. Family fun fairs and MANY other fundraising activities do occur and the PTOs are funding items like technology and books, items our tax dollars should be covering. May I ask what you base your assumptions on?
meowkats4 February 16, 2013 at 07:49 PM
Collective Bargaining is just KILLING this STATE period. When towns, cities start laying off Police and Fire. Will the people start to cry where are our services we pay taxes on? Will have to tell them we put into EDUCATION, to make our teachers better! We will continue to give them raises, they will continue cry for more monies, because we didn't give them enough!
Tom February 27, 2013 at 01:25 AM
Perhaps if we had the foresight over the years to develop land and increase the tax base we could handle an extra Mil or 2. The only thing this town can zone properly is a fast food restaurant or a jiffy lube or low to moderate rental buildings a sure and fast formula to economic chaos. Regarding the schools you could increase per student expense by 30% and still have minimal increase in acheivment. The low expectation of student achievment by teachers, administrators and frankly the community at large is appalling. Until that really changes we are short changing both students and tax payers

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