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Mt. Abe may trim three positions to cut costs

BRISTOL — Scrambling to cobble together an unexpected $475,000 in spending cuts, the Mount Abraham Union High School board of directors Tuesday reviewed preliminary cost savings that include eliminating three staff positions as well as trimming funding for maintenance and technology spending.
The cuts come after the board discovered last month that an accounting mistake would in many ways send administrators back to square one to draft the high school’s 2010-2011 spending plan, all while grappling with an unexpected deficit nearing $500,000.
The board found some relief in an anticipated $73,599 influx of federal stimulus money — funds that provide a reprieve for next year’s spending but offer no long-term help. They also saw an additional $44,734 come in on the revenue side of the budget in the form of a grant for Pathways, the high school’s new alternative education program that provides students with more options for meeting graduation requirements.
Even with the new revenue, though, Mount Abe administrators needed to find more than $350,000 in cuts in next year’s spending plan in order to meet the school board’s goal of level funding the budget. So far, it looks like the budget is close: Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Evelyn Howard said Tuesday night that the board is within $5,300 the goal.
Even if Mount Abe holds educational spending level at last year’s amount — roughly $11,160,000 — per pupil spending is set to rise by just under 6 percent because of declining enrollment.
Last year, Mount Abe’s enrollment dropped by 35 students, and it is anticipated to fall by another 33 students for the 2010-2011 school year.
So far, proposed cuts include:
• Two new math positions administrators had hoped to add to the school’s staff in 2010-2011.
• A $20,000 lobby renovation project school officials say would bolster school security.
• Three personnel cuts from the current staff, including part-time positions in the English and Social Studies departments, as well as a special education paraeducator’s position. Howard said the cuts were necessitated by the school’s steadily declining student enrollment, which the school has tried to keep up with over the years by incrementally reducing staff.
• $34,909 in cuts in technology spending.
The administration has also targeted a number of areas in the maintenance department were dollars could be trimmed from the spending plan. Officials shaved $16,000 from the line item budgeted for electricity, which the school hopes it can save through some of its ongoing energy efficiency improvements.
The school will also shave money from its athletic and field trip transportation line items, to the tune of $20,000 next year. Principal Andy Kepes acknowledged those cuts might be risky, especially if gas prices were to rise again, but felt confident that the cuts were appropriate.
Board member Dick Merrill, a Bristol resident, did push back against the list of proposed cuts a bit, questioning why student activities and maintenance funds had taken cuts when the administrative budget went untouched.
“My preference would be to trade a couple of administrators for a couple of math teachers,” Merrill said.
Meanwhile, board member Bob Donnis voiced some concern that the school’s lobby renovation had not only been cut but was not first on the list of cuts to be reinstated if money becomes available in the next few months. Administrators have ranked the possible cuts in order of importance.
The lobby renovation falls second on that list of the first cuts to be reinstated if possible; topping the list is a new math position for which Kepes and other administrators have lobbied hard.
“We feel as though we’ve made some pretty significant investments for raising reading and writing scores,” said Howard. “We don’t feel we’ve done as much as we’d like to do in the area of mathematics. That was the impetus behind trying to make some changes there.”
Howard added that the administrators’ commitment to beefing up the math department was given up “very reluctantly.”
Howard said she and other school administrators will be watching the conversations about education funding in Montpelier very carefully, though for now all they can control is budgets within the district.
“All we’re trying to do is be as responsible as we can be,” Howard said.

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