In a special meeting on Saturday, May 9, the Sherman Board of Selectmen voted to approve an annual town budget totaling $14,246,872, which amounted to a 3.6% tax decrease over last year. The budget, which broke down to $4,866,283 for the town and $9,380,589 for education, resulted in the BOS voting to set a mill rate of 19.11, down from 19.81 last year.
The three-member BOS were unanimous in support of separate votes for the town budget and the mill rate adoption, but the vote on the education budget was 2-1, with First Selectman Don Lowe and Selectman Bob Ostrosky in favor, and BOS member Kevin Keenan against. Keenan explained that he applauds the effort that the Sherman Board of Education has put into the budget, especially looking closely at the potential high school enrollment numbers, but that “Overall, I think that there is still a lot of work could be done.” He cites the past 6 years in which the budget has been set at levels that appears to be too high, with large amounts of surplus at the school year’s end.
Regarding the education budget, Lowe pointed out that among the many points of uncertainty next year is the possibility of families relocating out of cities and moving to towns like Sherman, “we don’t know where we will stand with enrollment.” He went on to point out that expenses may be higher or lower next year than previously anticipated due the possibility of continued distance learning. Ostrosky concurred that there are heaps of unknowns ahead, however “in my mind the BOE have answered all of the questions we have asked…I was happy with it then and I am happy with it now in light of the uncertainty.”
One line item that had been discussed frequently in previous meetings was the possibility of removing preschool tuition fees. The fees, at their recent levels, amounted to over $51K in revenue for the town. Given the pandemic and its many financial ramifications, all BOS members felt that it would be more prudent to return the revenue to the budget and push discussion of free preschool off for another year or more. Keenan noted of the negative feedback from many residents, “I was sort of surprised at the backlash from elimination of the Pre-K tuition.” Ostrosky added on to that, saying “The way I look at it is, the feedback I keep hearing is around the inability for the public to have input,” given that there is no town referendum. “The other factor is just the unknown. We don’t know what the next six months is going to look like,” he said.
Though $51K may be high, the BOS with input from Town Treasurer, Eric Holub, agreed to add the full amount back into the budget. Ostrosky pointed out that if the revenue amount is a lot less, due to lower enrollment, they will “just lean in if we need to.” He also noted that there may be surpluses that are unexpected in areas such as consumables at the school.
Sherman Board of Education Chair, Kasey Diotte, said that she totally understands the revocation of the free preschool tuition. For future consideration she said that, although indeed a possible point of attraction for prospective Sherman families, the free preschool tuition was also a larger planning point for the BOE, “it is what we think is best for Sherman kids,” she said. Among the many positives she highlighted were the notions that getting students into the program early is good for them, the possibility of identifying special education needs early is a benefit to the school and students, tuition has been a barrier for some families, and more.
The next regular Sherman Board of Selectmen meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 28, 7pm.