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March 03, 2009

TMD: Woodbury School Budget

(Ed note: This is another dispatch from reporter Anne Galloway)

A school budget increase of 8.7 percent for the 2009-2010 school year threw Woodbury voters in a tizzy on Town Meeting Day, and not only because that number exceeded the allowable increase of 3.9 percent, forcing the school board to present two budgets to voters as required under Act 82.

Woodbury was one of roughly a dozen towns statewide that had to present two budgets to voters.

The numbers weighed heavily on the crowd of more than 140 voters who came to town meeting, but what was really giving members of the audience heartburn was the notion that they might not be able to afford to keep their K-6 school in the middle of this Washington County town going much longer.

The school board cut a library position, eliminated the custodian and held a meeting to discuss dropping bus service altogether (though this last measure didn’t make into the budget put before voters on Tuesday). Some of the factors pushing costs up include a spike in special education expenses, low student enrollment (the school has about 50 students), maintenance for a two-story old brick school building and a $50,000 deficit carried forward from last year.

Compounding the problem is the fact that Woodbury, which was once a receiving town under Act 68, is now a sending town. Last year, taxpayers sent $100,000 to the state.  

After nearly five hours of deliberation, many motions and amendments, Woodbury residents passed both budgets – the $844,248 that fell under the state maximum inflationary rate passed, 84-62, and the additional amount, $56,362 passed, 78-54.

Voters here also set aside $7500 for a study of the town’s long-term options. Some of ideas that were tossed around included deeper cuts in school spending, tuitioning out students and starting a private school. None of these options sat well with voters, and it likely had nothing to do with the hot dogs that were served for lunch.

—  Anne Galloway

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