Mary Hogan School board OKs increased budget

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury voters on April 13 will vote on a 2011-2012 Mary Hogan Elementary School spending plan of $5,899,867, which represents a 2.22-percent increase compared to this year.
It is a budget that maintains current staffing levels, does not add any new programs and recognizes an enrollment increase of 10 students (for a total of 400), according to Mary Hogan Elementary Co-Principal Tom Buzzell.
And while the budget features a 2.22-percent increase in spending, it also reflects a 1-percent decrease in per-pupil spending (from the current $13,452 per student to $13,310). That lower per-pupil spending rate is related to the larger enrollment numbers, Buzzell noted.
Local taxpayers will be pleased to learn that Middlebury’s homestead education property tax rate is projected to decrease from $1.75 per $100 in property value to $1.74. This is associated with declining per-pupil spending rate and the fact that the estimated Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) rate — a feature of the state education funding law, Act 68 — for Middlebury is remaining unchanged.
ID-4 school district officials acknowledged that Mary Hogan Elementary is the only school in the Addison Central Supervisory Union that will be presenting a 2011-2012 spending plan to voters that is higher than this year’s. But they said the increase is warranted.
“We are one of the few schools in the state fortunate to have more students this year than last year,” Buzzell said.
State officials had urged all Vermont schools to present their communities with 2011-2012 budgets that reflect 2-percent lower spending than this year. The request was part of a “Challenges for Change” law aimed at producing long-term savings in state budgeting.
“That legislation was not sensitive to actual enrollment numbers,” Buzzell said of Challenges. “My understanding is it was developed to try to curtail school spending in a state that is losing approximately 1 percent the students annually. Therefore, it wasn’t targeted for a school like ours that is holding steady and in some years increasing slightly in enrollment.”
The 2.22-percent increase is primarily associated with fixed costs, according to Buzzell, such as surging fuel prices, anticipated increases in electricity and salary/benefit increases for ID-4 employees. It should be noted that Mary Hogan teachers — and their colleagues throughout the ACSU — are in their second year without a new contract. School directors and the teachers’ union continue to negotiate a new pact.
The proposed budget features $2,953 for a committee to develop a second-language program that will be presented to the Mary Hogan school board this fall. It will then be up to the board to approve or modify the program for implementation in time for the 2012-2013 academic year.
Buzzell noted the Mary Hogan Elementary budget warning will feature a separate article asking for permission to earmark up to $10,000 in education reserve money for Middlebury-based LandWorks to design a new playground plan for the recreation spaces along the northern and eastern borders of the Mary Hogan building.
That plan — to include citizen and school board input — is to include replacement of the wooden Kidspace structure.
The annual meeting is slated for Wednesday, April 13, at 7:30 p.m. in the Mary Hogan Elementary School gym.
Lucy Schumer, ID-4 board chairwoman, hopes voters will endorse the spending proposals.
“I think the board felt it was important to have a budget that maintains academic integrity,” Schumer said. “It is a budget that essentially maintains the program we had last year.”
She noted the Mary Hogan school board was unanimous in recommending the budget for warning.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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