Vergennes elementary eyes 4.7 percent spending increase

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union Elementary School board on Monday night moved closer to adopting a 2013-2014 budget that would boost spending by 4.7 percent to a little less than $4.1 million.
Board chairwoman Tara Brooks said on Tuesday the board would hold a special meeting during the second week of January to make final a plan that would increase spending by about $190,000.
She said the board will probably adopt what they looked at on Monday.
“We’re pretty confident of where we are now in terms or our numbers,” Brooks said.
Brooks also noted that the increase will follow years of modest VUES spending hikes: The current budget of a little less than $3.91 million represented a spending increase of $20,500, or 0.5 percent, from the year before.
“We knew we were going to see a budget increase … We’ve been very close to level-funded the last three years,” she said. “We can only do that for so long.”
Much of the higher spending is being driven by a $180,000 increase in special education. Addison Northwest Supervisory Union Superintendent Tom O’Brien also said the district-wide cost of health benefits is rising by 14 percent, and contracted raises for teachers are also driving spending.
Officials said costs would be much higher without impending retirements. On Monday the board accepted two resignations effective this coming June, from kindergarten teacher Donna Ebel and third- and fourth-grade team member Marilyn Woods, who has been at VUES for four decades. Woods is one of five members of that team.
Ebel will be replaced by a younger teacher who will be at the lower end of the wage scale, while Woods will not be fully replaced. However, Brooks said VUES will bring aboard a 60-percent math position to help students in that discipline.
At the same time, VUES information technology coordinator Will Hatch will move from fulltime there to working in a similar district-wide post. That change means VUES will pick up a fifth, rather than all, of his salary.
The board accepted that recommendation from O’Brien on Monday, and the effect of the retirements and that move reduced the spending increase from about 8.5 percent to the current 4.7 percent.
Brooks said the board does not believe the decisions will adversely affect students’ education.
“We’ve made some pretty significant changes that I feel don’t jeopardize the integrity of our program,” she said.
ANwSU business manager Kathy Cannon estimated the budget, if adopted as proposed in January and then approved by voters on Town Meeting Day, could add about three cents to residential school tax rates in Vergennes, Panton and Waltham. That estimate does not take into account any adjustments to be made due to Common Levels of Appraisals (CLAs), and those eligible for tax prebates will not necessarily feel the full effect of higher rates.
Overall, Brooks said board members believe they balanced what they felt had to be done for students with their responsibilities to the towns’ residents.
“That was one of the things we really discussed at length. We wanted to make sure we were being conscious of the needs of the taxpayers of the district and being conscious of the needs of the students,” she said. “And we really feel we are confident we have done that with this budget.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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