Mount Abe board eyes deeper cuts

BRISTOL — The Mount Abraham Union High School board is slashing an additional $174,000 from its 2011-2012 educational spending plan after receiving word this week that the Bristol school will post a projected $111,000 deficit this year.
A recently completed audit revealed a significant drop in Mount Abe’s projected revenues for next year that forced Co-principals Andy Kepes and Leon Wheeler to go back and make more spending cuts on top of the $266,767 that was eliminated earlier in the budget planning process.
And Kepes said at a Mount Abe board meeting Tuesday night that over the next two years, around $500,000 will need to be shaved off of the school’s educational spending to meet state mandates.
The Mount Abe board is scheduled to finalize the proposed 2011-2012 spending plan on Jan. 18 and warn it for a vote in the five towns area on Town Meeting Day. Proposed spending as of Tuesday’s meeting was $10,978,0000, but that was before the additional $174,000 reduction in spending was discussed.
The first round of cuts made earlier in budget development included cutting an already vacant teaching position as well as one of five counselors. At Tuesday’s school board meeting attended by Kepes, Wheeler and Addison Northeast Superintendent Evelyn Howard, Kepes acknowledged that the new cuts will have an impact on programming, and therefore on students.
“Andy and I, working with Evelyn, had to make some very painful kinds of decisions with very little lead time, and we tried to do so very thoughtfully, which was an incredibly uncomfortable position to be in,” Wheeler said. “I believe we have done well given our commitment to be responsible about the budget on one hand, and on the other hand, to minimize the negative impact that this will have.”
Kepes and Wheeler said the additional cuts for the next school year will most likely be eliminating a library aide and an administrative assistant as well as trimming special education spending. All that could save around $67,000.
Additionally, the Eagles program, an alternative education option that has served around six part-time students this year, will be shut down, thereby eliminating one teaching position. Students currently participating in the program will be integrated into regular programming in the future. Kepes estimated that this would save another $67,000.
“We had conversations with all of the staff that we could anticipate being directly impacted by these proposals,” Wheeler said. This meeting took place, he said, prior to a full faculty and staff meeting that he and Kepes called on Monday to explain the situation and possible changes to the school.
Pathways, another alternative education program that emphasizes self-directed learning, will also be affected by the second round of cuts. Those in charge of Pathways have been asked to shave $40,000 from their spending for next year, and starting in January, participating students will move out of their downtown space and back into the school building.
Kepes explained that though the school had applied for a $300,000 grant to fund the Pathways program, in mid-December, Mount Abe administrators were informed that it had only been awarded $100,000.
“That certainly had an impact on the bottom line,” Kepes said of the lower number.
Though this change in grant funding affected the school’s revenue numbers, Howard refrained from commenting at the meeting on the reasons for the change in the bottom line. Instead, she encouraged visitors to wait until the Jan. 18 school board meeting, when Business Manager Greg Burdick will present a more complete report on the results of the audit.
Kepes on Wednesday said the school’s equalized pupil number is projected to drop by 10-15 students next year following the graduation of one of the larger senior classes that the school has seen in a while. This will mean a drop in state funding, which is based on the number of students.
With grant contributions falling $200,000 short of projections and knowing that student enrollment numbers will drop for next year, Kepes and Wheeler set out to make up the difference while doing as little damage as possible. In addition to the cuts made this year, there will be more to come, including the possible elimination of either an administrator or behavioral specialist position.
“One of those two will be cut for the second year in the budget process,” Kepes said. “There are some other program things that we are looking at. Thankfully we have time to go through that process thoughtfully and to make preparations, and will do so.”
The timeline for this year is not quite so forgiving — Kepes, Wheeler and members of the school board must finalize the new round of cuts for the upcoming year by Jan. 18. Mount Abe school board Chairman Lanny Smith said the proposed cuts are still in draft form, but will be refined in the coming weeks.
“We’ve had about four or five days to absorb this, so we’re still in the big-picture stage,” Kepes said. “The nitty-gritty — we haven’t had those discussions yet.”
Tamara Hilmes is at [email protected].

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