By Russell Jones
CHITTENDEN — The Barstow Unified Union school board has proposed a budget increase of less than 1 percent for the 2020 fiscal year. The .78 percent increase, making a proposed budget of $4.77 million, equals an increase of $36,886 for the next year and is mostly due to contractual increases in salaries and benefits.
Barstow Memorial School serves over 200 students from the towns of Mendon and Chittenden in pre-K through eighth grades in the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union. The two towns chose high school choice decades ago and, despite the supervisory union having a high school (Otter Valley Union High School), most of their students go to nearby Rutland High School.
The proposed budget will add a new student support specialist position to address social and behavioral needs of students and would add a slight increase in world languages and an investment in field studies curricular trips for students.
“The demographics of Barstow, like all of our schools, are changing,” said RNESU Superintendent Jeanne Collins. “We have more kids who need behavioral support, most often due to trauma.”
Barstow does not currently have a behavioral support system beyond the guidance counselor. So this position would be available to help write behavior plans, de-escalate students, support teachers with students, and generally do whatever is needed to help students process behavior and remain engaged in classes.
“We also have this position already at Neshobe, OV and Lothrop. The position is not a teacher; it is a support staff position with background in working with students with behavioral needs,” Collins said.
The proposed budget would increase the amount of time the Spanish teacher spends with students and would also increase the field studies budget by $5,000 to allow for $50 per student for curricular-based field studies.
While the Barstow class sizes are generally level and fairly predictable, high school costs have been more unpredictable. The vast majority of high school students in the district go to Rutland High, which costs $15,300 per student a year, but costs can vary – up to $18,000 for students attending Woodstock High School.
The increase in this proposed budget is offset by a decrease in high school tuition payments. School officials expect a drop of 12 students from this year to next. This should decrease high school costs about 8 percent for the fiscal year, or about $120,000.
The taxable amount of the proposed budget increases .64 percent, while the equalized pupils are down 1.25 percent. This means that one of the key factors in determining school tax rates, education spending per equalized pupils, has gone up 1.91 percent.
Because this will be the third year since the Act 46 merger, the tax break will be two cents before Common Level Appraisals are factored in.
According to the school district, after the CLA is factored into the state’s formula for determining individual homestead tax rates, Chittenden residents should see a decrease of about $50 per $200,000 value of their home. Mendon residents will see an increase of about $66 per $200,000 home value.
“I believe this modest increase in the school budget is reflective of the commitment by the communities in a comprehensive educational program for students,” Collins said. “It allows current programs to continue while addressing an increasing need for behavioral support.”
Voters from Chittenden and Mendon will have an opportunity to discuss the proposed budget at the annual meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 6:30 p.m. in the school’s hall.
“The board is looking forward to presenting the Barstow budget for FY 2020 to residents,” board chair Deborah Singiser wrote in an emailed reply. “We believe the school to be on a strong results-oriented path and that the proposed budget provides the necessary resources to continue to prepare our youngest citizens to pursue their dreams and become contributing members of society.”