VUHS board again backs decreased spending

VERGENNES — Vergennes Union High School board members have adopted a 2011-2012 budget for Town Meeting Day approval that would drop spending from the current level by almost $94,000, or 1.06 percent.
Their $8.8 million proposal is the second in two years that would drop spending. The current year’s spending plan of about $8.9 million came in almost $11,000 lower than the previous year’s.
VUHS Co-principal Ed Webbley said the proposed budget, which the board OK’d last week, contains no cuts among the school’s teaching staff. It does, however, reduce two positions to half-time, a guidance office secretary and a library assistant, and eliminate two aides, one through retirement. The other aide has already left, he said.
More savings came from major budget cuts in the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union office, cuts that will also help the three ANwSU elementary boards keep spending in line, said Superintendent Tom O’Brien.
ANwSU had two curriculum coordinators, one for its elementary schools and one for VUHS, which houses middle and high school students. But when the union’s special education coordinator retired this past spring, ANwSU did not replace her, and instead moved one of the curriculum coordinators into that post, thus cutting a salary.
O’Brien said the office also did some major belt-tightening, as did the schools; the result for VUHS was an ANwSU assessment that will be about $100,000 lower next year.
“We were on … the entire district, not just the SU office, an austerity plan,” O’Brien said. “As a result we had some surplus in the budgets to apply toward this year.”
Webbley said he and Co-principal Peter Reynolds were “reasonably happy” with the outcome, despite some corner-cutting and the loss of some funding for the middle school’s Expeditionary Learning program.
“We maintained the level of our core and even our peripheral academic programs. And so we’re reasonably excited about that. We cut an awful lot again out of budget lines for books, materials, supplies … The middle school made some sacrifices in terms of the Expeditionary Learning program,” Webbley said. “But all in all we’ve maintained a base to a healthy high school.”
The largest proposed increase in spending — about $87,500 — comes in the “Instructional Program.” Most of that money is in teachers’ salaries and benefits. If voters back the budget in March, Instructional Program spending will rise by 2.7 percent.
Spending decreases include about $32,000 in special education; $32,000 in energy costs, which officials said were over-budgeted this year; and $21,500 in lower interest in the payment on the bond for the major expansion and upgrade to VUHS a decade go.
O’Brien said the estimated VUHS “education rate per equalized pupil” that state officials use to help calculate local taxes will drop from $13,007 to $12,859 if the budget is approved.
That latter figure is almost $2,000 below the state threshold of $14,733 over which districts are penalized for excess spending. That would be the most VUHS is under that threshold in the past three years; VUHS is about $1,500 below the threshold in the current year.
Despite the lower proposal, O’Brien agrees with Webbley the budget will serve VUHS students well.
“I feel fine about it. I feel it’s responsible given the circumstances we’re in regionally and statewide,” he said. “I think we still maintain the integrity of the program.”
Webbley said VUHS administrators would continue to seek more ways to be more cost-effective.
“We’re hoping to become more efficient,” he said.
ANwSU voters can also expect level-funded or lower elementary school budgets. O’Brien said Addison Central School board members, who will meet this Thursday, are looking at a 5 percent spending decrease. The Vergennes Union Elementary School board was expected to OK slightly lower spending earlier this week, and the Ferrisburgh Central School board backed a level-funded budget last week.
The Independent will take a detailed look at ANwSU elementary school budgets next week. Information on the potential tax impacts of ANwSU spending will be published when it becomes available.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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