Commentary: Taconic and Green district getting ready for takeoff

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The new Taconic and Green Regional School District becomes officially operational this year on July 1. Taconic and Green will coordinate the educational program of five schools (Currier Memorial, Flood Brook, Manchester Elementary Middle School, The Dorset School and Sunderland Elementary) for nine towns (Danby, Dorset, Landgrove, Londonderry, Manchester, Mt. Tabor, Peru, Sunderland and Weston).

In 2016, representatives from all nine communities formed the Northshire Merger Study Committee and developed the proposal to create Taconic and Green. Last year, the plan was presented to the public and approved overwhelmingly by the voters in March 2017. This July, Taconic and Green will become the largest district in the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union, serving more than 1,700 students.

The new Taconic and Green School Board has been hard at work for the last nine months preparing for the July 2018 transition. One of many important tasks was the building of a 2018-19 school budget that will be presented to the public for a vote March 6. After months of study and internal debate, the T and G Board approved a final FY19 proposal at its January 2018 meeting. The Annual Report, which contains detailed budgetary information will be available for the public Feb. 15. Copies can be picked up at town halls, all five local schools, the Manchester Community Library and online at brsu.org. If none of the above are convenient, feel free to call the BRSU Main Office at 802-362-2452 and ask for a copy to be mailed.

Note that the T&G Board will host a public information meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Flood Brook School in Londonderry. We hope to see many of you at this important meeting.

The budget provides a comprehensive look at the financial state of the new district. The information includes not only data for PK-8 programs controlled directly by T&G, but also the costs of high school tuition paid to various institutions for our children. In the document you'll find definitions of standard educational terms, a list of questions and answers, five years of historical tax rates for all nine towns, and line-by-line financial details.

In looking at the budget document, however, you may find it most helpful to focus on the section that summarizes expenditures. This category details the components of the FY19 plan that will be voted on by the public at the March Meeting. Here you will find that the T&G Board is asking for your support for a FY19 budget of $31,885,710 — an increase of 3.1 percent, or $943,743 over what was spent by the combined local districts in FY18.

A closer look at the FY19 expenditures shows that much of the increase over FY18 comes from non-discretionary spending, categories outside the control of the T&G District. The budgeted education program for grades 9-12, for example, is up by 4.7 percent. This translates to an increase of $514,829, or more than half of the additional FY19 expenditures. Our secondary population continues to grow at a steady pace.

The T&G District has most control over our prekindergarten through grade eight programs, where the increase is 1.1 percent. The T&G Board has worked hard to limit this amount, but in our judgement, this spending level allows us to maintain quality education for our children, while remaining fiscally responsible.

We have made short term investments where we see long term opportunities and cuts where we felt there were more efficient ways to provide the service. This task has not been easy.

As we move forward to the Town Meeting and July launch of Taconic and Green, I'm sure you will continue to have questions. We will do our best to provide information in a variety of ways. Information is available online at the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union site: brsu.org.

At that site, for example, we recently started a Taconic & Green blog, in which content will be updated regularly on a wide range of topics related to the new district As always, you can also call us directly with questions at the BRSU at 802-362-2452.

Since its inception, the board has put students at the center. Its motto is "all our kids are all our kids."

During this budget development process, they worked hard to build a budget that will continue to offer an excellent education for T&G students but also looked to the future.

The board is committed to encouraging innovative program opportunities for students that allow for more personalization and relevancy.

For the future success of our students and community, please stay informed and involved as we move ahead. We look forward to hearing from you every step of the way.

Jacquelyne Wilson is superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union, of which the Taconic and Green Regional School District is a member.

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