ACSU schools to lower spending $613K

MIDDLEBURY — Leaders of the nine Addison Central Supervisory Union schools and central office will attempt to prepare 2011-2012 budgets that reflect a combined total of $613,340 in spending cuts compared to this year.
The cuts — which ACSU officials said are likely to take an even higher toll due to inflation — are being requested as part of the state Legislature’s cost-cutting “Challenges for Change” directive aimed at reducing government spending. As part of that directive, state officials want Vermont’s public school system to cut total spending by roughly 2 percent, or a combined $23 million.
The ACSU schools’ portion of that $23 million amounts to $613,340, with the lion’s share associated with the UD-3 budget, which encompasses Middlebury Union Middle School and High School.
UD-3 school board members next Tuesday are slated to get their first glimpse of how a 2-percent spending cut ($341,565) could translate into fewer supplies, programs, staff and services. ACSU Superintendent Lee Sease said all other schools in the union will be engaging in similar conversations during the weeks ahead. No specific details on cuts were available as the Addison Independent went to press, but Sease said he and his staff are looking at all areas — including potential reductions in work force — to meet the target.
At the same time, Sease acknowledged that directors of some ACSU schools could decide to recommend against a 2-percent cut because of a negative effect on their educational programming.
“Some places we have been able to meet the target, in other places we are close and in some places we can’t,” Sease said.
The ACSU central office has also been asked to meet the Challenges goal, amounting to $35,721.
Challenges for Change is a state request, not a mandate. Sharon Stearns, the ACSU’s business manager, said school districts have until Dec. 15 to inform Vermont Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca whether they will be able to make voluntary 2-percent cuts. If the total is less than $23 million, Vilaseca will recommend to the Legislature (by Jan. 15) ways to bridge the gap. Some local education officials have voiced concern that the Legislature might propose increasing the statewide education property tax as a means of meeting any “Challenges” deficit.
In the meantime, school districts will be pouring over their respective 2011-2012 draft budgets to see where they can achieve some savings. The ACSU schools and the “Challenge’ target they have been tasked to meet are as follows:
• Bridport Central School, $21,969.
• Bingham Elementary School (Cornwall), $23,886.
• Mary Hogan Elementary School (Middlebury ID-4), $111,792.
• Ripton Elementary School, $12,073.
• Salisbury Community School, $22,917.
• Shoreham Elementary School, $24,381.
• Weybridge Elementary School, $19,096.
• UD-3 (MUMS and MUHS), $341,565.
These proposed decreases come on the heels of an already austere budget year for ACSU schools, most of which pitched 2010-2011 spending plans that reflected decreases or increases of less than 2 percent.
While some individual ACSU schools might not meet the Challenges goal, Sease believes the overall $613,340 goal could be within reach.
“I would say we are doing a pretty good job getting close,” Sease said. “I’m not saying each school will be able to meet the target given to them … but looking at the target in the aggregate, I think we’ll come pretty close.”
Stearns said school directors will be looking for community input as they ready for some tough decisions.
“These are tough times, and definitely the kind of times when everyone has to look closely at spending and making difficult choices,” Stearns said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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