Orwell to vote on school spending hike, repairs

ORWELL — This Town Meeting Day, voters in Orwell will decide on a proposed 2012-13 elementary school spending plan that represents a 5.47 percent increase over the 2011-12 budget.
Like many proposed school budgets around the state, Orwell’s plan adds back many vital services that were cut due to the state’s Challenge for Change budget recommendations last year, according to Orwell Village School Board chair Glen Cousineau. The additional spending is necessary to maintain a high quality of education at the Orwell Village School, he added.
According to Laura Jakubowski, Addison Rutland Supervisory Union business manager, the proposed spending of $1,661,585 is an increase over the current year’s $1,575,395 budgeted spending.
A separate building repair would also add $50,100 onto the budget for performing weatherproofing and energy efficiency work on one portion of the Orwell Village School building. If OK’d by voters, this  would bring the total spending increase to 8.6 percent.
Cousineau said the additional building repair item is the last of a two-part energy overhaul in the building, the first of which was a long-overdue ventilation system and control upgrade in 2010. Spending on energy efficiency, he said, will work out to long-term savings for taxpayers — despite a cold winter last year, the school’s fuel consumption was down 1,800 gallons from the previous winter.
“We’re certainly seeing the paybacks in that part of the project,” said Cousineau.
A state audit found that added insulation would reduce the school’s energy usage by approximately 40 percent, but he said even a 20 percent savings would make a mark on the heating bill.
“Per square foot, we have one of the highest heating costs of any school in the state,” said Cousineau.
The school board also hopes to reinstate a full-time teaching position that it brought down to half-time last year in order to meet the Challenges for Change recommendations.
“It was something that we had to do to meet that goal, but I feel that it did have a negative impact on teaching,” said Cousineau.
The budget also contains increased costs for heating, electric, town property maintenance (the school maintains a gazebo on the town green) and allocations for the purchase of technology.
And, said Cousineau, the amount budget to pay for diesel fuel to run buses has increased significantly. While movement is under way across the state to consolidate transportation services across supervisory unions, ARSU schools are still either running their own buses or contracting independently to transport students. Orwell owns its own buses, so Cousineau said fuel price increases have a direct effect on the school budget.
Jakubowski said the proposed school budget including the separate article would lead to a tentative education property tax increase by 3 cents to $1.13, but she said those are very preliminary figures — a large portion of the final figure is passed down from the state, and those final numbers will not be released for several months.
Still, said Cousineau, the school has done significant work to shear down its budget in recent years.
“The budget for this year is less than our budget was three years ago, or four years even,” he said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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