OV spending to fall, but taxes to rise

BRANDON — The Otter Valley Union High School board last week approved a $10,675,889 spending plan for 2010-2011 to send to voters on Town Meeting Day, but the school’s administrative structure for next year is still unclear.
The big question is: Will there be a dean of students and if so, what will that position look like?
With that question still to be sorted out, the board OK’d the budget warning, which includes cuts of $425,371 in spending, or 3.83 percent, from the current year’s budget. Even with the lower overall spending figure, the school tax rate is expected to rise because of the decrease in state aid due to a 7.1 percent drop in enrollment and a 2-cent increase in the state’s education tax rate for homeowners.
OV Finance Committee Chair Ellen Kurrelmeyer said taxpayers would seen an overall increase of 8 cents, or 6.39 percent, to $1.32. On a $200,000 home, school taxes would go up $160.
“You know, used to be that if you decreased your budget, your taxes went down,” Kurrelmeyer observed.
A net total of three full-time teaching positions have been cut from the 2011 spending plan. If the budged is approved by voters, it will mean that in the past four years a total of 14.75 full-time professional and support staff have been eliminated at OV. That represents a 23 per decrease in faculty and a 33 percent drop in administration since 2007, mirroring a 21 percent decline in student enrollment, Kurrelmeyer pointed out.
According to Kurrelmeyer, this budget includes staff reductions in administration, guidance, mathematics, social studies, science and business, offset by the return of middle school French, an additional paraprofessional for the high school Brain Cell program, and a dean of students.
“While some class sizes are expected to increase, the breadth and depth of academic programs for students will remain intact,” she said.
The board also cut departmental and program budgets by 10 percent, which Kurrelmeyer said resulted in some painful reductions, especially in the percussion program in music. Reductions were also made to other budget lines such as substitutes, professional development and special education assessments.
The question about a dean of students was prompted by the recent announcement that OV Principal Dana Cole-Levesque will leave in June to become superintendent at the Rutland South Supervisory Union. The principal currently earns $101,000 a year.
The board met on Jan. 6 and spent most of the meeting discussing the pros and cons of creating the new administrative position of dean, if the position was necessary, and whether or not it was an administrative position at all. The initial salary and benefit cost of $75,682 is very tenuous.
Cole-Levesque’s departure means promotions for associate principals Jim Avery and Nancy Robinson, who may become the high school and middle school principals, respectively. The other idea is to have them be co-principals of the entire students body. But by splitting the duties overseeing the 700-students, the thinking is that another position should be created — called a dean of students or director of student services — to help Avery and Robinson with discipline and attendance issues.
The problem is, for many years some taxpayers have chafed at the idea of three administrators at OV, saying it was an unnecessary expense. Now an opportunity arises to trim the administration to two, and the board is well aware that the creation of another administrative position may not go over well with voters. Brandon board member Dick White was the first to address the issue.
“I would tend to guess that taxpayers’ hope that going from three administrators to two, with Dana’s package over $100,000, that we should be saving somewhere near that amount of money and we’re not because we decided we need another person with a different title,” he said. “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.”
The board has budgeted $4,752.76 to reinstate Avery’s and Robinson’s reduced days on their contracts. Another $10,765 is included to add to their salaries as they become principals. But it’s the proposed $75,682 for a dean of students that will take up any savings from Cole-Levesque’s departure.
Rutland Northeast Superintendent John Castle said the final decision regarding the OV administrative structure should and will go through a process in the coming weeks with the board’s Curriculum, Assessment, Policy and Personnel Committee. Castle also made his opinion clear.
“Co-principals is not my preference,” he said. “And it has nothing to do with my lack of confidence in Jim and Nancy, I would prefer a more traditional model of principal and associate principal.”
The superintendent also said that, as a dean of students in the town of Holland before taking his current position, he feels strongly that a dean of students is necessary.
“I have a very strong bias,” he said. “I have a good sense of what this role can be and should be and, if done well, that person will be running from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It has to focus on students. The point is, if we take that burden off the principals, they will be able to lead in that capacity.”
Castle also said he felt a certified teacher should occupy the dean’s role, and the position should be placed on a teacher’s salary scale, which could be lower than the suggested $75,000.
Castle also said that, ultimately, he trusts the board and would live with whatever decision comes down regarding the position.
“None of this is about ego or authorship,” he said. “I feel strongly that to have this third position is very important for leadership and management. The board has done good work to be stewards of the public’s money and of their students. We will spend the time in the next month or so hammering out this issue.”
Before the final vote on the budget, White offered an amendment to cut half of the $10,765 increase to the principals from the administrative portion of the plan., but there was no second.
The board voted to approve the $10,675,890 budget with one “no” vote from White.

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