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Mt. Abraham seeks no spending increase

BRISTOL — Taking aim at level-funding the 2012-2013 school budget, Mount Abraham Union High School Principal Andy Kepes offered the school board at its Tuesday meeting an even slimmer spending plan that would decrease spending by 1.9 percent from this year’s $11,309,068 budget.
Kepes said that if the budget was level funded, the additional $123,616 would pay for a Latin teacher that otherwise would be eliminated (saving $70,000 in salary and benefits), fund summer curriculum development that would enable teachers to incorporate new concepts and skills into classes, and bulk up other budget lines.
After a concise discussion, Mount Abe school board members voted to stick with level funding — their initial budget target — to provide school administrators with some extra wiggle room to operate. Board members also said it might let the school expand programs like the Pathways program (in which students design curriculum), which the board touted as a success. Although no official budget was adopted — school board chair Lanny Smith said that will likely come in mid-to-late January — no change in spending will be the target administrators and school board members shoot for as they work out the kinks of a new budget.
School board members learned that a zero-percent increase in spending would still result in a 4.1-percent increase in per pupil spending because the number of students at Mount Abe will decline.
This increase in per-pupil spending, from $13,018 this year to $13,552 next year, will lead to a slight rise in the overall education tax rate, from $1.3256 this year to a projected $1.3565 next year. But the rate in each of the five towns Mount Abe serves — Bristol, Starksboro, New Haven, Monkton and Lincoln — will vary based on their student count.
The number of students at Mount Abe decreased by about 15-20 from last year to around 770 kids this year, said Kepes in a separate interview, and he expects the trend looks to continue at about the same rate next year.
Included in the $11,309,068 proposed spending plan is $36,000 to pay off a $326,000 deficit from two years ago, said Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Business Manager Ed Gomeau.
 “We will basically have wiped out that $326,000 over a period of 2.5-3 years,” he said. “That’s a significant accomplishment, I think.”
In other news from the Mount Abe board meeting:
•  The board voted to issue an abbreviated version of the proposed budget as part of an informational booklet mailed annually to taxpayers. The measure was adopted to reduce costs. If local residents want to see the entire budget, they may call the superintendent’s office or view it in the town office, Smith said.
“The smaller we can make it, the more money we can save, the better we are,” said Smith about the cost savings of a slimmer booklet.
The only board member who voted against this change was Dick Merrill.
•  Kepes and Gomeau informed the board that they were exploring the possibility of selling Mount Abe’s two regular-size school buses because the school doesn’t have a driver. In the long run, explained Gomeau, selling the buses that aren’t being used and contracting out to Bet-Cha Transit for bus service for sports, field trips and extracurricular activities should save the school money.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected]

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