OV eyes more than $350k in budget cuts

BRANDON — The Otter Valley Union High School Board is seeking feedback from Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union-area residents at a budget forum at its Dec. 16 meeting at 7 p.m. in the OV auditorium.
At the OV board’s Dec. 2 budget-building session, board members and administration first learned the full magnitude of the budget impacts they are facing. Since October, they had been working on a plan to cut $350,000 from the current spending plan in an attempt to create a 2010-2011 budget that results in no increase in property tax rates for district towns.
“We are all affected by the same economic pressures the rest of the public is experiencing,” said Ellen Kurrelmeyer, chair of OV board’s Finance Committee, in a press release. “For the past three budget cycles, we have been continuing a downsizing trend by reducing staff and trimming expenses and programs with the goal of providing a comprehensive program for our students yet maintaining a level tax rate for the voters.”
As of Dec. 2, the OV board had identified about $340,000 in cuts, which included reducing 4.42 full-time equivalent (FTE) faculty and administrative staff positions, and roughly $73,000 from programs and departments. This would result in some increases in class sizes in mathematics, social studies and science; increased student load for guidance counselors, and reduced contracted workdays for administrators. Class sizes would not increase in most other subject areas.
These cuts would mean a total reduction of 16.25 FTE professional and support staff positions and about $160,000 in reductions to departments and programs over the past three budget cycles.
These cuts were necessary because OV’s equalized pupil count — which is the basis for school funding — has dropped from 773 in ’08, to 746 in ’09, and to an estimated 696 for ’10. The per-pupil costs are determined by the number of equalized pupils in the school. If the per-pupil costs are above the amount the state allows, the difference must be made up by the local taxpayer.
The board has reduced school personnel and operating expenses with the goal of keeping per-pupil costs and the OV property tax rate stable.
“What we learned on Dec. 2 was that our anticipated 3-4 percent budget reduction necessary for stability, actually needed to be a 9.6 percent reduction,” Kurrelmeyer said.
She explained that OV’s equalized pupil count has actually dropped 7.1 percent. In addition, the board learned that state officials plan an increase to the statewide education property tax, which will add an additional 2.5 percent to the OV tax rate, for a total of 9.6 percent.
“In other words, it would take a 9.6 percent increase in the current tax rate to raise the same amount of money we raised for the current budget,” Kurrelmeyer said. “A corresponding 9.6 percent decrease to our budget would mean $1.07 million to $1.08 million in cuts. Cuts of this magnitude would eliminate many departments and programs, severely limit the educational offerings to our students, and dramatically affect the quality of what we do offer.”
Academically, the OV board feels it is making painful cuts, while leaving current school programs intact. Board members hope to identify other reductions that will amount to about a 4 percent in total spending reductions, leaving a 5.6 percent increase in property taxes to voters.
“We need to hear from the voters before we finalize our 2010 budget,” Kurrelmeyer said.

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