ANwSU wrestles with lower spending goals

Boards at the four Addison Northwest Supervisory Union schools are all making efforts to meet the Challenges for Change spending recommendations. Here’s what’s going on at each school:
Vergennes Union High School Co-Principal Ed Webbley said VUHS must cut about $165,000 from the previous budget plus new costs to reach level funding. That goal could be reached because fewer aides will be needed next year and another “position or two” will be lost through attrition, he said.
“It would cost us quite a bit, but we would still have full programs,” he said.
Webbley said VUHS might even be able to survive the 2 percent reduction from current levels with modest, but still painful staff cuts. But he did not enjoy the prospect of meeting the full impact of the Challenge a year after cutting two teaching jobs.
“The next step would be impossible,” Webbley said. “We’d be so stripped-down … we wouldn’t be serving the kids well.”
Webbley said administrators worked hard to level fund last year and will do so again this year — and they are prepared to follow the board’s dictates.
“It’s a substantial amount of money that we made (in cuts) to get there, but that’s not the argument Act 146 would make,” Webbley said. “The next move would to present a full array of cuts to get to whatever level (the board thinks is) necessary.”
The target at Vergennes Union Elementary School — 2 percent after new costs are factored in — is about $65,000. Officials said the VUES board hopes that at least one veteran teacher will accept the early retirement package that the ANwSU board decided to offer all its faculty members.
The board could instead let a less experienced teacher go, but the cost savings would not be as great, and VUES board chairwoman Cheryl Brinkman said the staffing adjustments would be more difficult.
“(Cutting) a teacher right now would have a great impact on our program,” she said.
ANwSU Superintendent Tom O’Brien said quality of work was not an issue in offering the retirement packages.
“We also have veteran staff who are clearly aware that if they retire they would save younger staff (jobs),” O’Brien said. “I think they know it’s not because of their performance.”
Brinkman said she was frustrated by the Challenge because she believes other schools have been less frugal than VUES.
“We don’t have that buffer some schools have by not making cuts in previous years,” she said.
The Ferrisburgh Central School board was asked to cut about $51,300, and school board chairman Kurt Haigis said that goal has been met in preliminary budget meetings without personnel changes.
“We should be able to do it by providing programmatic changes,” Haigis said. “We’re in a good position, because we’ve been frugal before, to move positions around.”
O’Brien said FCS realized savings in special education and, as is the case for all four ANwSU schools, a drop in the central office assessment. The ANwSU budget fell by about $71,000 when officials combined two curriculum coordinator positions into one after one of the coordinators took over as the ANwSU special education head.
Haigis said board members have been gratified by increased citizen feedback.
“We’ve seen a marked increase in people at school board meetings, and we celebrate that,” Haigis said. “We’d love to see as many people participate as possible.”
Addison Central School board chairwoman Kathy Clark said the easier part of that board’s task was cutting $30,000 from the initial draft.
That goal was achieved with the hiring of a less expensive technology coordinator and the decrease in the ANwSU assessment. Along with other modest cuts, the board projects a savings of $45,000.
The hard part, she said, is finding another $35,000 of savings to allow ACS to escape a state-imposed penalty for high per-pupil spending. Declining enrollment at ACS has increased its per-pupil costs in recent years.
Considering the tough decisions made last year — the library is open one day a week instead of two, and the music position was halved to one day a week — further cuts are hard to contemplate, Clark said.
“We made some huge cuts last year that really hurt,” she said.
The board may cut food service costs and a small capital improvement fund, saving about $17,000. But a retirement would help the cause, O’Brien said.
“We believe we have at least one, possibly more, that might take advantage of that,” O’Brien said.
Clark said she has become a convert to unification of ANwSU governance as a solution to ACS’s financial problems and keeping it open as a public school.
“Another year will be devastating if we don’t unify,” she said.
Ultimately, O’Brien hopes ANwSU residents will appreciate that their board members are trying to balance costs and education and are doing their best to meet the Challenge.
“I think we’re doing pretty well,” O’Brien said. “If the intent was to take the burden off the taxpayers, we’re doing a pretty good job of that … And if it’s still too much, the voters will let us know.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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