UPDATE 1/23/12: This story has a major inaccuracy: Due to a calculation error by Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU), the proposed 2012-2013 Ripton Elementary School spending plan will not require two votes at town meeting after all. Please see the end of the article for more details, and stay tuned for an article with updated ACSU budget information.
RIPTON — Ripton Elementary School directors are crafting a 2012-2013 spending plan that would require two public votes at town meeting in order to maintain current services, preserve a new after-school program and establish a Spanish language offering.
The two votes would be required under Vermont’s Act 82. That law requires school districts to limit budget increases to the rate of inflation, plus one percent. Districts that fail to do so must hold one vote on the portion of the budget that falls under inflation plus one percent, and then a separate vote on the portion that exceeds that amount.
As of Monday, Ripton officials were proposing a 2012-2013 spending plan of $775,360, representing a 5.4-percent increase compared to this year. It is a budget that runs afoul of Act 82 by $17,115 — a sum that Ripton voters would have to consider in a second budget vote at their annual town meeting this March.
Ripton would become the first community in Addison County to have a school budget trigger two votes under Act 82.
“This is the first increase we have proposed in three years,” reads a budget letter Ripton school directors recently sent to townspeople. “It is important to note the proposed total is still less than that which the town approved for the 2006-2007 school year.”
Ripton residents will have a chance to weigh in the draft $775,360 budget at a public meeting set for this Thursday, Jan. 19, at 7 p.m. in the school’s media center. Barring any changes, the board will officially endorse the budget for the town meeting warning.
Carol Ford, Ripton Elementary School chairwoman, explained the $17,115 that would be requested in the second budget vote would pay for Spanish language instruction and the after-school program. That after-school program currently receives federal Title 1 funding, but that revenue source is expected to dry up. Officials are hoping taxpayers agree to fill the funding void for the offering, which is currently serving around 15 students per day, three days per week.
Ripton Elementary currently serves 51 students, seven of whom are tuitioned from outside of the district. Those students hail from Hancock, Granville and Goshen — communities too small to sustain their own elementary schools.
“We happen to be smack-dab in the middle of three school-choice towns,” Ford said of Ripton’s unexpected enrollment windfall.
The tuitioned students have provided a nice boost for Ripton, which has one the smallest grade school populations in the Addison Central Supervisory Union. Those extra students have allowed the Ripton school to at least temporarily solidify its programming and hire (thanks to the tuition revenues) another teacher for the second half of this school year. That new teacher will be assigned to fifth grade, which is currently combined with the sixth-grade class, according to Ripton Elementary Principal Tracey Harrington.
The visiting students do not, however, count toward Ripton’s equalized per-pupil count, noted ACSU interim Superintendent Gail Conley. That means the state reimbursement goes to the sending town, not Ripton.
It presents an interesting accounting dilemma for the district’s fiscal managers, noted Ripton school director Willem Jewett.
“It changes the balance of how the budget works,” said Jewett, who is also his town’s representative in Montpelier. “Tuition is sort of above the bottom line, if you will, and comes in as a revenue … It will leave us in a strange situation where we are flush with cash, but we have a budget that’s ballooning in small part because of the extra kids.”
Jewett also noted the unpredictability of tuition placements.
“It’s a strange time at the school,” Jewett said. “It’s great that the school is filling up; we don’t know how to feel about it when it’s not kids from town. Do you feel confident they will be there next fall? That’s my remaining anxiety.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent
CORRECTION: This story has a major inaccuracy. The proposed 2012-2013 Ripton Elementary School spending plan of $775,360, a 5.4-percent increase, will not require two votes at town meeting after all.
Turns out Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) office made an error in its initial calculations, which indicated the Ripton spending plan would trigger two votes under Vermont’s Act 82. That law requires school districts to limit budget increases to the rate of inflation, plus 1 percent. Districts that fail to do so must hold one vote on the portion of the budget that falls under inflation plus 1 percent, and then a separate vote on the portion that exceeds that amount. With that in mind, Ripton was preparing to warn two votes — one for $758,245, and another for $17,115, the amount thought to exceed the Act 82 limit.
But ACSU interim Superintendent Gail Conley reported on Thursday that the original budget number distributed by the district and reported in the story did not reflect expenses — such as special education costs — that districts are allowed to deduct from the Act 82 formula. As a result, the $775,360 budget in fact falls under the Act 82 threshold and will not require two votes, he said.
The Jan. 26 issue of the Independent will feature and overview of all seven elementary school budgets in the ACSU, along with potential property tax impacts.