Mt. Abe faces unexpected $475,000 in spending cuts

BRISTOL — An accounting mistake sent up a major roadblock for the Mount Abraham Union High School board of directors this week, sending school board members and administrators back to square one to draft the high school’s 2010-2011 spending plan all while grappling with an unexpected additional $475,000 in necessary cuts.
Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Business Manager explained that an incomplete estimate in the early budget drafts put the “balance forward” number in the school budget much higher than is accurate.
The estimate — which was high by about $475,000 — came to light this week after the district received preliminary audit reports from its independent auditing company. The district had been waiting on these reports for 12 weeks, far longer than is typical.
The same issue with inaccurate estimates will affect all six schools in the ANeSU district, setting back the entire district’s budgeting process by several weeks.
With revised balance forward numbers reflecting the actual amount of money left over from the previous year’s spending, Mount Abe administrators are left to trim that additional $475,000 from their proposed spending plan if they wish to stick to the board’s goal for level funding the budget.
Board Chair Lanny Smith said the Mount Abe School board is still committed to that goal, and that the only reason they might waver is if it becomes apparent that the school would have to cut truly essential programs.
Smith said it’s too early to know where those cuts might come. School administrators, working with the supervisory union, are charged with reevaluating places to trim back funds over the next few weeks. Those cuts will likely be on the table for discussion on Jan. 5 at the next board meeting.
Burdick said that, unfortunately, it may be the administrators who end up bearing the brunt of the mistake, given that school officials are charged with recommending cuts on an extremely accelerated timeline.
“What I should have given them two months to do, they have two weeks to do,” Burdick said.
The school board learned of the incomplete estimate on Tuesday, and reacted with a fair amount of shock to the unexpected news.
“We’re really in trouble, I think, as far as what we’re going to have to cut and what we’re going to have to do,” said Smith, who said board members are trying to balance their commitment to presenting to taxpayers a fair budget while also maintaining the quality of education for students.
He added that anything “new” the board has contemplated shuffling, tweaking and adding to the budget is “definitely gone at this point.”
“We’re definitely in the proverbial rock and the hard place,” Smith said. “That was a shock for everybody. That hit us pretty hard.”

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