On August 19, 2020

Rochester-Stockbridge school budget passes

By Katy Savage

The Rochester-Stockbridge Unified School District budget passed 262-211 on Aug. 11 after voters defeated the original proposal in June.

The $4.37 million budget is down about $37,000 from the previous year’s budget and down about $19,000 from the original budget proposal.

“I felt positive about it,”  White River Valley Supervisory Union Superintendent Jamie Kinnarney said. “That’s a strong budget that’s going to support what we need to provide high-quality instruction to our districts.”

Though the budget is down, taxes and per pupil spending are up. The per pupil spending of $18,755 is up about $500 from the previous year while the $1.6 equalized tax rate is up 1.1 cents from the previous year. The owner of a $200,000 home will pay about $22 more in taxes.

The original $4.39 million budget failed 141-110 on June 30. At that time, Rochester residents approved the budget 87-47, but Stockbridge voters widely defeated it, 94-23. Similar to the first vote, Rochester voters approved the budget 175-107 on Aug. 11, but Stockbridge voters turned it down 104-87.

“They felt like due to tough fiscal times…the budget was too much,” Kinnarney said.

Stockbridge voters have continued to deny the budget in part due to maintenance costs associated with the vacant Rochester High School building.

Rochester residents voted to close the 25,000-square-foot Rochester High School in 2017, but Rochester Elementary School students have continued to use the auditorium and music rooms in the building. The building also houses the phone and security system for Rochester Elementary School.

Since the budget failed, the school board voted to close the high school building for instructional purposes this year — a move already in place due to Covid-19. The board cut $13,000 in fuel costs and another $6,000 in maintenance costs associated with the high school from the budget. Board members have also met with the Rochester Select Board in executive session to ask the town to acquire the building.

“I feel like conversations have been positive with the Select Board and there is still momentum there,” Kinnarney said, adding that while the conversations are “fluid,” but the process will take time. The topic will be on the school board’s agenda to discuss monthly. The school board has also distributed survey questions to community members, asking them to voice concerns.

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