Weybridge proposes big cut in school spending

WEYBRIDGE — Weybridge voters in March will be asked to approve a 2012-2013 elementary school spending plan of $970,277, representing a 14.55-percent decrease to reflect an ongoing trend of declining enrollment.
This is the third year in a row that Weybridge school directors are pitching a reduced budget. Local voters last year OK’d a $1,135,495 spending plan, which amounted to a 6.4-percent decrease compared to the previous year.
School officials recognized that cuts were again on order for next year, as the Weybridge Elementary School’s population is expected to drop from the current 51 students to around 40 next fall. Weybridge school directors have already been involving citizens in discussions about steps the community could take to keep Weybridge Elementary viable amid a shrinking student count.
While that discussion plays out, school officials are acknowledging the need to trim the budget for next year, and they were able to do that without laying off any teachers.
The proposed $970,277 budget reflects one fewer full-time teacher, according to school Principal Christina Johnston. But that teacher recently left to fill a teaching vacancy in Shoreham. So the school will simply leave that spot vacant and enter the 2012-2013 academic year with four, instead of five, full-time teaching positions.
The draft budget also reflects a 0.5-percent reduction in a learning specialist position, noted Johnston, who has volunteered to reduce her own  position from full-time to 0.9 percent.
“It was a sacrifice offered by her, and not requested by the board,” said school board Chairman Eben Punderson. “It’s a sacrifice and it is really admirable that she’s doing this.”
Punderson said the 2012-2013 budget is also being helped by an anticipated 57-percent drop in special education expenses. The proposed spending plan includes no new programs.
School officials said they do not yet have enough information from the state to calculate how the budget, if approved, would affect local property taxes. History has shown, under the state’s complicated education funding formula, that a school can propose a spending decrease that can still translate into a boost in education property taxes. But Punderson does not think that would be the case in Weybridge.
“I would guess we will see a drop in our tax rate,” he said.
Overall, around 62 percent of Weybridge’s children will be attending secondary schools (Middlebury Union middle and high schools) next year, while just 38 percent will be at the elementary school, according to Punderson. That means 38 percent of the education tax bill will be associated with elementary education, something Punderson hopes taxpayers will bear in mind when they decide the school budgets.
While Weybridge’s school population is sliding, officials noted it could get a bump at any given time if just one or two large families move into town. And in a related matter, the Weybridge board reversed an existing policy that precluded the local elementary school from accepting tuition students. That ban had been based on the state’s previous rules that required receiving districts to cover special education and other extraordinary needs of incoming students, according to Punderson. Now that the education dollars follow each student, Weybridge has opened its doors to tuition students.
“There is no downside,” Punderson said.
Weybridge has also explored the option of sending its kids to other schools and paying the tuition. And the numbers — at least at this point — don’t add up, according to Punderson.
“It wouldn’t cost us any less to tuition our students out and maintain the (school) buildings and grounds,” Punderson said.
Weybridge could eventually study the prospect of merging its elementary school population with that of neighboring Middlebury or Cornwall. But those conversations aren’t likely to happen until next spring, at the earliest, in order to give time for all seven Addison Central Supervisory Union towns to hold discussions about the long-term future of their respective elementary schools.
In the meantime, Punderson wants to dispel some rumors that he said have been swirling around town.
“There are no plans to close the Weybridge school,” Punderson said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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