Addison proposes lower school budget

ADDISON — The Addison Central School board has for the third straight year adopted a proposed budget that if approved on Town Meeting Day will lower spending and, according to Addison Northwest Supervisory Union estimates, could also mean a lower education property tax rate.
In March, Addison residents will weigh in on a proposal for about $1.68 million of spending in the coming school year. It would cut about $28,400, or 1.66 percent, from the current budget.
The savings are made possible by the impending retirement of second-grade teacher Karen Florucci, who will step down next spring after teaching for 25 years in Addison. 
Principal Wayne Howe said Florucci will not be replaced. Only four or five kindergarten students are expected to follow an equally small first grade into ACS, and those two classes will be combined.
Florucci will be missed, Howe said, but her decision made the board’s work less painful.
“She’s been here forever and really knows kids inside and out,” he said, “but we didn’t have to let somebody go.”
Future decisions may not be so easy, however. The forecast calls for a continuing downward trend for enrollment at ACS, which once had about 140 students and now has about 95.
Howe said the school board has talked at length about combining more classes in the future as a response to lower student counts. For example, he said the school would have to decide what to do if another class of a half-dozen enters in 2014, leaving fewer than 20 students in kindergarten and first and second grades.
“The board took a hard look down the road a few years and just thought a little bit about what we are going to do … as the enrollment continues to go down,” Howe said. “In the future there will be greater multi-grades as we continue to try to maintain a more reasonable teacher-to-student ratio.”
Howe said despite the declining budgets, the school’s performance has been strong, with encouraging test results seen in the 2011-2012 academic year.
He is optimistic both trends can coexist.
“Our budgets have declined every year, and I expect that’s going to continue in the future,” Howe said. “I think we have a program that we can be proud of, but I think we have to be mindful of costs.”
The budget proposed by the ACS board will avoid the tax penalty for excessive per-pupil spending that Addison has paid in recent years.
It also represents a drop of roughly $236,500 from the high-water mark of ACS spending, set in the 2009-2010 school year.
In that year, residents backed a budget of about $1.89 million and also approved an additional $30,000 for capital improvements to the school, for a total of a little less than $1.92 million of spending.
The budget approved last week by the ACS board also includes roughly $11,000 in cuts for fuel oil and in the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union office assessment. That latter cut is due to the fact ACS has a smaller share of the total student population in ANwSU.
Some higher expenses are offsetting savings, however. Costs are rising in special education and busing (about $7,000 apiece), food service ($9,375) and administration (almost $4,500).
ANwSU officials are projecting Addison’s school tax rate will drop based on preliminary figures for the statewide tax rate and allowable per-pupil spending provided by the Vermont Department of Education.
If both the $8.97 million Vergennes Union High School budget, which calls for an increase of just under 2 percent, and the ACS budget pass on Town Meeting Day, ANwSU officials are projecting an Addison school tax rate of $1.323.
The current Addison school tax rate, not including the levy needed to support town services, is $1.3982.
ANwSU business manager Kathy Cannon said the drop is due, at least in part, to the elimination of the tax penalty for excess per-pupil spending the town has been paying.
The estimate for the 2012-2013 tax year is prior to any adjustment for the town’s common level of appraisal, or CLA. The CLA is a town’s ratio of actual real estate market value compared to its assessed grand list value, as determined by the state’s analysis of property sales in the town.
The state has pegged Addison’s 2013 CLA at about 110 percent — about a 13-percent increase from the previous CLA.
If a CLA increases, it has the effect of lowering a tax rate, and the ANwSU estimate might in fact be high, Cannon acknowledged.
Although the Vermont Legislature also could raise the statewide tax rate, Cannon said it appears Addison’s school tax rate could fall even further than the preliminary estimate, even if there are no certainties at this point.
“We’re doing our best to … make our best guess,” she said. “We’ve been advised by Department of Education personnel what to use in our estimates, but that can all change.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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