MIDDLEBURY — When the Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) closed the financial books on the recently concluded academic year, UD-3 school board members got a pleasant surprise — a $212,006 surplus from the 2009-2010 UD-3 budget, which encompasses spending at Middlebury Union Middle School and High School.
Now the board is planning how to spend a portion of that surplus and crunching the numbers to see if it can propose a smaller spending plan it its 2011-2012 budget.
The UD-3 board will apply $112,006 of the surplus toward the 2010-2011 budget, while earmarking the remaining $100,000 for three capital improvement projects: A new greenhouse and storage space at the high school ($60,000); classroom technology improvements at the middle school ($30,000); and landscaping upgrades on the middle school grounds ($10,000).
The new greenhouse is intended, among other things, to offer new learning opportunities — such as hothouse food production — for students in the district’s Alternative Education Program. The greenhouse will be built in place of two makeshift, portable classrooms behind the MUHS building. It’s a project that also entails tearing down an old, adjacent bus barn, to be replaced by a new metal storage building.
Officials said the landscaping to be done at MUMS is work that was postponed when the building was erected more than a decade ago.
Meanwhile, the UD-3 board has already begun to lay groundwork for preparing a 2011-2012 budget that could be less than the 2010-2011 spending plan of $15,967,209 that voters approved on Town Meeting Day. That 2010-2011 budget represented a 2.8-percent increase over the previous school year, and UD-3 officials drew some heat last winter from Middlebury town officials and some citizens from other ACSU-members towns (Weybridge, Shoreham, Salisbury, Ripton, Cornwall and Bridport) who had urged for more austere MUHS and MUMS budgets. While the budget increase was 2.8 percent, the tax affecting portion of the spending plan rose by more than 6 percent.
Cuts might indeed be in the offing, as the UD-3 board has asked ACSU administrators to come back with a draft 2011-2012 spending plan that reflects a 3.5-percent reduction in spending.
Leonard Barrett, chairman of the UD-3 board, stressed the directive does not necessarily mean a budget featuring a 3.5-percent cut will be presented to voters next March.
“The administration wanted a number to shoot for,” Barrett said. “All it is right now is a target.”
He acknowledged a 3.5-percent cut would likely mean cutting teachers and even courses. The consequences of dramatic cuts will be weighed with the interests of local taxpayers, many of whom continue to suffer through wage freezes, layoffs and dwindling investment income brought on by the ailing economy.
“At the same time, we are not looking to take courses from kids that would cause harm to their education,” Barrett said.
Still, Barrett said he senses a resolve by the board to reduce the impact of the budget on taxpayers.
“I believe this board is on board for zero-percent (increase) or less,” Barrett said.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.