St. J residents vote on school budget for the fourth time - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

St. J residents vote on school budget for the fourth time

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Many towns across Vermont have struggled to pass school budgets since town meeting day back in March.

Three times was the charm for school districts around Burlington this week.

A town in the Northeast Kingdom is hoping the fourth time will be the one.

"Well ... I'm feeling frustrated," said Garth Leach

Leach grew up in St. Johnsbury and moved back to town five years ago to raise his two kids. Zoe is in the fourth grade at the St Johnsbury School and Jack is in Kindergarten.

"When the second vote didn't pass and the third vote, we've really considered not staying here in St. Johnsbury," said Leach.

For the first time that anyone can remember, the school budget will be voted on for a fourth time next week.

Since the initial budget on Town Meeting Day, school leads have cut 180,000, then 45,000 and now an additional 135,000 to try and get the budget passed.

"We've cut technology, we've cut five positions, we've cut supplies, we've carved money out sort of every place we could," said Dr. Ranny Bledsoe, superintendent.

Bledsoe says, if this fourth budget passes, they'll be working with less money next year compared to this school year.

Reporter Julie Kelley: How long have you lived in St. Johnsbury?

David Timson, St. Johnsbury resident: All my life!

Lifelong residents like Timson say people here are struggling. He thinks the school can cut more.

"It's top heavy, it's very top heavy. The problem is they keep cutting stuff for the kids, programs and so forth, yet nothing has come out of the top of the budget," said Timson.

Some parents say, there's another challenge. They say that the high school budget can't be cut because St. Johnsbury Academy is tuition based.

"Even if this budget passes this town is going to have to really think about the disparity in the funding between K through 8 and the high school. It is a very good high school and it provides a good education but I don't think that is a justification for sacrificing k through 8 students in town," said Eli Emerson, father.

The St. Johnsbury School is an underperforming school. Something the superintendent inherited when she came here two years ago.

"There's this feeling that the school hasn't gotten better. Are we throwing good money after bad," said Bledsoe.

Bledsoe says she has a plan to change that perception. She is adjusting the leadership structure so that there is one principal, not two. They are focusing more on early grades where kids have struggled and she is setting up a system to respond more quickly to problems.

Town manager John Hall tells me, like other towns, St. J's struggles were not helped by the state.

"The Governor did not fund state aid education the way it has been funded, so that shortfall wasn't huge, but you add that on to the other pressures and it caused a lot of the problems," said Hall.

Back at school 3rd-grader Ella White spends her recess playing with friends. Her mother watches on just a few hundred feet away worried about what will happen.

Julie Kelley - If the budget fails again?

Kari: We all lose, this whole town loses.

"Yah, now we just can't afford it," said Timson.

St. Johnsbury voters head back to the polls next Wednesday to vote on the school budget for the fourth time.

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