Clarification on school board negotiations

To the Editor:

I am quite sympathetic with the frustration expressed in Mike Fortier's letter that appeared as a Caledonian Record editorial on Monday April 14th, and would like to provide additional details that should help clarify the situation. Our current budget process follows a standard format for Vermont and was used by my predecessors in the Superintendency. Because this is my first experience with negotiations in Vermont, I followed the format that has always been used: negotiations begin in late fall and continue through the time that budget development and budget votes are taking place. Following established precedent, the administrative team this year (myself, Board members Becky Baldauf and Richard Boisseau, and Business Manager Kathy Ducharme) and members of the Association agreed at the beginning to hold details confidential until the procedure concludes with the adoption of a new contract.

I agree with Mr. Fortier's assertion that this process does not give voters all the information that should be available to them when they review and evaluate the District's budget. I would like to explore alterations in the process--possibly beginning negotiations earlier in the year and concluding them before the budget is presented--before the next round of negotiations scheduled for 2017-18. The Board and the Association will consider this and other options.

It is important to remember that when we residents vote on a budget, we are voting on a single number, which is the total amount we are requesting. In presenting the budget for approval on April 24, the District Board is committing itself to keep expenses under that amount. For example, we had to freeze the PreK-8 budget this past year in order to fund unanticipated increases in high school costs, due to 21 additional students in grades 9-12. We do whatever it takes to stay within the total budget that taxpayers have approved. In our proposed budget for the coming year, the PreK-8 budget will rise by 2% after 5 years with an average increase of 1%. We have been and will continue to be responsibly conservative in our expenditures.

While we cannot report on anticipated salary increases for employees who are members of the Association, the current budget does include an across-the-board 2% salary increase for employees who are not members of the Association. This will barely cover the cost-of-living increase due to inflation, and is lower than the increase budgeted for non-Union employees of our town (4%), for Saint Johnsbury Academy employees (3%), and for employees of the State of Vermont (2.5%).

I trust this clarifies some of the concerns expressed in Mr. Fortier's letter. I am more than willing to provide additional information to help voters understand the budget process and the reasoning behind the expenditures which will enable us to provide a quality education for the children of St. Johnsbury.

Ranny Bledsoe

St. Johnsbury, Vt.

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