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Mary Hogan school budget vote scheduled

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury voters next Wednesday, April 11, will be asked to approve a proposed 2012-2013 Mary Hogan Elementary School budget of $6,144,811, which would produce a 4.15-percent increase in spending but result in a small decrease in the education property tax rate.
It is a spending plan that reflects a reduction in five instructional assistants and a 60-percent full-time-equivalent special educator. Those reductions reflect the impending graduation of several special needs students to the middle school, officials said. Those instructional assistants would be following the students to the middle school to ensure continuity of services.
It’s a budget that also retires a $107,770 deficit associated with the 2010-2011 academic year. That deficit, according to ID-4 school board Chairwoman Karen Lefkoe, was caused by lower than expected revenues, unexpected leaves taken by some personnel, and unanticipated special education costs.
Overall, ID-4 officials are pleased with the proposed 2012-2013 spending plan, which they said maintains current services and does not include any major, new initiatives.
“We were able to maintain our wonderful programs and staffing without increasing the tax rate,” Lefkoe said on Monday of the spending plan, which will be voted at the annual ID-4 meeting to be held at 7:30 p.m. in the Mary Hogan school gymnasium. Officials are hoping for a good turnout at a gathering that has in recent years, unfortunately, seen only a handful of people vote on a multi-million-dollar budget.
Factors contributing to the proposed 4.15-percent increase in spending, according to school administrators, include:
•  Anticipated rises in fuel and utility costs. The Addison Central Supervisory Union office has recommended increases of around $6,000 for electricity, $1,200 for propane and more than $21,000 for fuel oil for next year.
•  A boost of $20,000 for computers and other technology-related equipment in the school’s media center. The school was able to dramatically scale back its media center expenses last year due to a School Improvement Grant from the state. But that money will not be available next year, so the school will have to pick up the slack.
•  A correction in ID-4’s share of the ACSU’s school bus contract. Mary Hogan’s share of the contract this year is $90,753, but the ACSU business office has indicated that number should be at $106,648 next year.
•  The early retirement program. The program, which offers financial incentives for teachers considering retirement, is projected to increase from $88,829 this year to $122,641 next year. More veteran teachers are taking advantage of the program, which increases upfront costs for the district but allows ID-4 to hire less senior educators at a lower wage.
There are currently 393 students enrolled at Mary Hogan Elementary, a number that is expected to grow to around 400 during each of the next few years. That rising enrollment — which runs counter to the trend of declining enrollment in most other parts of the state — is one of the reasons that education property taxes are expected to go down as a result of the budget in spite of the 4.15-percent spending increase. More students means more in state education block grants.
The other main reason for the estimated 0.86-percent property tax decrease is an expected rise in Middlebury’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. If a CLA increases, it has the effect of lowering a tax rate. Middlebury’s CLA is expected to increase from the current 81.96 percent to 86.80 percent.
A copy of the 2011-2102 ID-4 annual report and specific budget details can be found at www.addisoncentralsu.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf

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