November 19, 2007
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The UD-3 school board will spend the coming weeks refining the first draft of a combined Middlebury Union High School/Middlebury Union Middle School 2008-2009 budget of $15.46 million, which would represent a 7.8-percent increase in spending over the current year.
But district officials are very confident they will be able to substantially trim that number in short order, largely due to an early retirement program that has been offered to 13 veteran UD-3 teachers. The board is scheduled to discuss the budget at its next meeting, on Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 5:30 p.m., in room 218 at MUMS.
“We think we’re in good shape,” Addison Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Lee Sease said on Wednesday.
As of last week, roughly half of the 13 early retirement slots had been spoken for, according to Sease, who is confident the others will be used up before the UD-3 budget is put to bed next month.
The prospective early retirements of 13 senior teachers will allow the district to hire new educators at lower salaries while keeping some of the slots vacant.
“As we go through the early retirement process, there will be some positions that we don’t replace,” Sease said. “That will not eliminate programs. What it might do is eliminate the number of course offerings we might have in a subject.”
Sease said he could not yet confirm which subjects are likely to be affected by the early retirements.
UD-3 budget planners early this fall set to work crafting a 2008-2009 spending plan that would not exceed a per-pupil spending level of $12,560. It’s a figure that local officials believe will conservatively mirror the average statewide per-pupil spending level next year. Under Vermont’s education funding law, districts that spend 125 percent of the average per-pupil spending level are taxed at a higher level, with the “penalty” revenues used to help pay for education in poorer towns.
As it stands, the first draft of the UD-3 budget is around $420,000 above the amount needed to arrive at the $12,560 per-pupil spending level that Sease would like to achieve. But if all early retirement program slots are snapped up, as district officials believe, that will bring the budget much closer to meeting the per-pupil spending goal.
“From the people that we’ve heard from verbally, we think we can take another $340,000 out of the budget,” Sease said. “If everything we know right now came to fruition, we would be $76,000 over our (target) — and that’s with doing conservative estimates.”
Sease stressed the numbers now in play are subject to change. But he believes the district is budgeting within safe parameters.
“We are still in the projection phase of this,” Sease said. “The numbers we are projecting right now will firm up between Dec. 1 and the holidays. I don’t anticipate going into the holidays without firm numbers.”
He stressed that UD-3 board members will not be faced with a budget that would place the district in the position of paying a penalty.
“We are committed to staying under that spending threshold,” Sease said. “We have done it three years in a row, and we are going to do it a fourth.”
Sease called the draft UD-3 spending plan “a basic budget,” though he did note what he called a “noticeable spike in special education costs in the high school.” Expenses in that category are tentatively projected to rise from $1,431,246 to $1,711,488, a 19.6 percent increase.
“These are children coming into the high school with existing programs,” Sease said. “There are things that come about that you don’t have any control over.”
Plans call for the UD-3 board to approve a final budget on Dec. 11. In the meantime, Sease and school board members hope to receive feedback from taxpayers, starting with the budget discussion at the Tuesday meeting.