School spending increases eyed for two ANwSU elementary schools, decrease at third

VERGENNES — The three Addison Northwest Supervisory Union elementary school boards recently adopted spending plans for the 2013-2014 academic year that in two cases would boost their budgets by close to 5 percent, and in the third case drop spending by almost 4 percent.
The proposed Vergennes Union Elementary School (VUES) budget is up by 4.7 percent, while the Ferrisburgh Central School (FCS) board is seeking approval on Town Meeting Day for a 4.88 percent increase.
Personnel changes helped the Addison Central School (ACS) board craft a plan calling for the 4 percent decrease.
In all cases, contracted raises for teachers and other employees and a major hike in health insurance costs put pressure on budgets.
ANwSU Superintendent Tom O’Brien said insurance officials told him to expect health insurance bills to rise by 10 to 15 percent, and O’Brien recommended that boards budget for a 13.5 percent hike in their spending plans.
O’Brien said local school officials did a good job of presenting responsible budgets given the circumstances this winter and given that board members in most cases held the line on spending during the down economy of the past several years.
“These town school districts worked hard over the past several years to present a fiscally prudent spending plan to their taxpayers, and did so again this year despite the increases,” he said. “So in the scheme of things, over a period of time, the budget growth, I think, has been very conservative across the board.”
On Feb. 5, the Vergennes Union High School board is also asking voters to consider a two-phase improvement bond. The first choice will be to spend $4.2 million to make improvements in and around the school, and voters will also be asked to spend another $2 million to put an artificial surface on the school’s varsity soccer and lacrosse field and to surround it with a track. That extra money cannot be approved unless ANwSU residents also back the $4.2 million bond.
Payments on those bonds would not have an impact on the 2013-2014 budget, according to ANwSU business manager Kathy Cannon, but the effect would be felt the following year.
The VUES board on Jan. 8 adopted a proposal to raise spending by 4.7 percent to $4,085,252 in 2013-2014.
That figure does not include an article that would devote $25,000 to the school’s capital improvement fund. The board decided on Jan. 8 to add that article, which had been typical in past years.
School officials said this year’s increase followed years of modest spending hikes, including the current budget, which rose by $20,500, or 0.5 percent, from the year before.
Much of the higher spending this time around is being driven by a $180,000 increase in special education, plus health insurance costs and contracted raises.
Officials said costs would be much higher without impending retirements. In December the board accepted two resignations effective in June, from kindergarten teacher Donna Ebel and third- and fourth-grade team member Marilyn Woods, who has been at VUES for four decades.
At the same time, the 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 other ANwSU schools and the district office will each share in Hatch’s salary.
On Jan. 10 the FCS board adopted a budget proposal that would maintain existing programs and increase school spending by 4.88 percent to $3,261,909.
The increase of almost $152,000 to current spending is largely being driven higher by contracted raises and the increase in health insurance costs.  
The budget does not include two separate spending votes, one to add $20,000 to the school’s capital improvement fund, and another to devote $10,000 to create a new fund to buy technology for FCS.
The school will also be in year one of a two-year upgrade of its wireless technology, while one speech paraeducator will be cut.
FCS will also save some money because teacher Alana Lilly announced she would accept an early retirement package after three decades at the school.
On Jan. 8 the ACS board adopted a $1,161,042 plan that would drop spending from the current level by about $66,600.  
Like the VUES board, the ACS board on Jan. 8 also added a $20,000 capital improvement fund article. Such an article had been typical in past years.
The proposed spending plan will continue to avoid the state penalties for high per-pupil spending that had added to some ACS budgets before the current academic year, officials said.
Two personnel changes account for most of the savings: Principal Wayne Howe’s expected move to become ANwSU’s part-time assistant superintendent, and a cutback in the hours of the ACS math interventionist.
O’Brien said the ANwSU board is expected on Jan. 23 to make final Howe’s appointment as the ANwSU assistant superintendent, effective this summer. That job will have the equivalent of two days a week of responsibility and reduce Howe’s role at ACS to a three-day-a-week responsibility — with resulting savings to the school’s budget.
Contracted raises and higher health insurance costs are driving spending up, and the board is also budgeting a $7,000 raise for administrative assistant Susie Hodsden, who will assume greater responsibilities when Howe is not in the building.
With the Jan. 14 adoption of a proposed $9.5 million Vergennes Union High School budget, estimates for Addison Northwest Supervisory Union school tax rates were also released and show a range of increases from about 7 to 9.6 cents in the five towns.
The estimates assume the four ANwSU budgets pass as proposed and that lawmakers make no surprising changes in the state’s school funding laws this winter. The final estimates are adjusted for Common Levels of Appraisal (CLAs), which measure how close the towns’ assessments of their property values are to true market value, according to state data.
Many residents will not feel the full effect of any tax increase because they are not paying school taxes based on the full value of their home. According to the most recent state data, a majority of residents in each ANwSU town receive property tax prebates.
The ANwSU estimates (not including the portion of tax rates needed to support municipal spending), adjusted for CLAs, are:
•  Addison, an increase of 7.1 cents to $1.403.
A 7.1-cent increase translates to $71 in higher taxes per $100,000 of assessed value, assuming that a resident is paying taxes based on the full value of a home.
•  Ferrisburgh, an increase of 8.28 cents to $1.423.
An 8.28-cent increase translates to almost $83 in higher taxes per $100,000 of assessed value, assuming that a resident is paying taxes based on the full value of a home.
•  Panton, an increase of 9.21 cents to $1.324.
A 9.21-cent increase translates to roughly $92 in higher taxes per $100,000 of assessed value, assuming that a resident is paying taxes based on the full value of a home.
•  Vergennes, an increase of 8.7 cents to 1.325.
A 8.7-cent increase translates to $87 in higher taxes per $100,000 of assessed value, assuming that a resident is paying taxes based on the full value of a home.
•  Waltham, an increase of 9.6 cents to $1.327.
A 9.6-cent increase translates to $96 in higher taxes per $100,000 of assessed value, assuming that a resident is paying taxes based on the full value of a home.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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