MIDDLEBURY — The UD-3 school board has given its unanimous approval to a proposed 2014-2015 spending plan of $17,064,779 for Middlebury Union middle and high schools.
That is a budget that reflects an overall 2.89 percent spending increase compared to this year and allows MUMS to maintain a four-team teaching structure.
Board members had been considering deeper cuts in light of a MUMS enrollment projected to decline by 42 students next year (to a total of 256). With that in mind, school directors were considering eliminating 3.2 educator positions at MUMS next year, a move that would have resulted in elimination of one of the four interdisciplinary teams, which are called Ohana, Mosaic, Paragon and Phoenix. This would have left MUMS with three (instead of four) interdisciplinary teams leading a student body with average class sizes of 21.3 students, up from the current average of 18.
Currently, two of the four teams serve 7th graders and the other two serve 8th graders. A three-team model would have required a mix of both grades in each team, according to Principal Patrick Reen.
MUMS teachers urged the board to maintain the four-team model, which they argue allows for a more comprehensive, coordinated and successful learning experience for students. Some of those teachers reiterated their concerns to the board on Dec. 18 as the panel reviewed a fourth draft of the UD-3 spending plan.
“We feel when we go from four teams to three, we are losing a lot more than one team,” MUMS Social Studies teacher Peter Brakeley said. He and longtime math teacher Paul Cherrier said a reduction to three teams would negatively affect class size, team planning time, common department time, scheduling, and tutorial services for students who are falling behind.
“We just don’t want to limit opportunities for students,” Cherrier said. “We’ve built it up to a point where we can offer a lot, and we just don’t want to risk that.”
Now it looks like the four-team system will survive for at least one more year.
At last Wednesday’s meeting Reen and Addison Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Peter Burrows unveiled a new UD-3 spending plan that restores MUMS faculty and the four-team structure. Officials said they were able to accomplish this through a combination of updated state aid numbers — which work to UD-3’s advantage — and some new budget adjustments.
Burrows said the latest state aid numbers had the effect of whittling down the budget draft by $123,000.
Reen presented MUMS budget changes that include:
• Restoring, for a total of $155,422, two full-time teaching positions (science, social studies) that had been casualties in the previous draft.
• Adding, for $19,509, a 0.4-percent Algebra Seminar position.
• Cutting paraprofessional time, travel, printing, books, computer tech construction, principal’s office budget, and the buildings account for a combined total of $68,116.
“There were a lot of places where I went back to the drawing board and asked, ‘Can we do without this for at least a year and try and make this work?’” Reen said. “I went through every line of the budget so see if I could find $1,000 here, $2,000 there.”
The end result, Reen noted, is a 2014-2015 UD-3 budget reflecting a 2.89-percent increase, but a MUMS budget that would be 0.68 percent lower than the current spending plan. The spending plan does not run afoul of any of the spending penalty provisions of Act 68, the state’s education funding law.
It should be noted, however, that residents in some of the seven ACSU-member towns would see education property tax increases that would be a lot higher than 2.89 percent, if the proposed UD-3 budget is approved by voters.
Laura Nassau, ACSU business manager, noted that based on the recommendation from the state for base education spending of $9,382 and homestead tax rate of $1.01 per $100 in property value, this budget generates a 10.8-percent increase in the equalized homestead tax rate, from $1.599 to $1.772. Compared to the third draft, the estimated equalized tax rate is $0.012 more. When prorated by share of equalized pupils and adjusted by the Common Level of Appraisal for each town (CLA information had not been provided by the state as the Addison Independent went to press), tax rate changes range from an increase of 1.8 percent (in Salisbury) to an increase of 15.2 percent (in Ripton).
UD-3 board members said they realize that future budget cuts will be necessary in light of declining enrollment trends. But they felt inclined to defer major cuts to the MUMS budget this year in light of the administration’s recommendations.
“Are we looking to sustain the four-team model forever, or are we looking to save it this year and would plan to drop it down to three?” UD-3 board member Lorraine Morse of Middlebury asked her colleagues. “We have talked about declining enrollment and saving money.”
Board member Thomas Hughes, also from Middlebury, said it would be tough for school directors to try and map out a multi-year budget plan due to the volatility of such factors as state aid numbers, student enrollment levels and teacher retirements.
“We are kind of forced to look at each budget one at a time, with all the specifics that happen that way,” Hughes said.
Residents in the seven ACSU-member towns — Weybridge, Shoreham, Salisbury, Ripton, Middlebury, Cornwall and Bridport — will vote on the proposed UD-3 budget on Town Meeting Day, March 4, 2014.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]