OVUHS sets budget with 2.3 percent spending hike

BRANDON — The Otter Valley Union School Board has approved a $10,542,068 spending plan for the 2013-2014 fiscal year that represents a 2.3 percent increase. Officials attributed the marginal increase to some creative shifting of personnel and the possible use of a reserve fund for computer equipment.
The proposed budget amounts to a $209,518 increase over the current year’s spending plan.
School boards are under tremendous pressure each fiscal year to keep costs down. That task is amplified in the face of falling enrollment, as state funding a school receives is based on the number of students at each school — fewer students mean less funding from the state.
Enrollment at OV has been falling more or less steadily for the last decade, meaning that administrators must look to the two most costly but controversial areas to cut spending: staff and programming. There are currently 571 students at OV, down from 584 last year, 599 in 2009 and 658 in 2008. Enrollment peaked in 1995 with 774 students.
Per pupil spending in the proposed budget comes in at $13,922 based on the state formula. By comparison, grade 7-12 schools with similar enrollment are spending more and less. Woodstock Union High School, with 545 students, is spending $16,415 per pupil. In Vergennes, which has 571 students, VUHS is spending $11,642 per pupil.
Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union officials pegged the anticipated education tax rate for towns that send students to OV at $1.46 — up 12 cents from the current rate. The increase is partially due to the state education tax rate going up three cents to 92 cents.
But this year, OV Principals Jim Avery and Nancy Robinson said they took a more creative approach, reallocating personnel from areas of dwindling need to areas they were needed more. For some teachers, it was a matter of changing the layout of the workday that saved money.
“We believe we are bringing a very fiscally responsible budget,” Avery told the board at its Jan. 16 meeting. “Positions that are cut or reduced have been reallocated to support student learning and other positions have been rescheduled during the day.”
For instance:
•  There is the reduction of one part-time science teacher, but service to students will not be cut because a math position will cover two sections of physics that need to be taught in the science department.
•  There is also an English teacher position that will teach four sections of social studies to make up a full-time position.
•  A social studies position will now also include coordination of the Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together program, which may be an elective social studies course. That teacher will also oversee the Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative (VVLC) and the External Learning Opportunities (ELO). The position of ELO coordinator, a part-time position, has been cut.
•  A world languages position will now also oversee those students taking an online world language course through the VVLC.
•  A physical education teacher’s day will be restructured to include time before the school day begins. Alternatives to meet physical education requirements will be explored with students through personal learning plans to include opportunities outside of the gymnasium.
•  The family and consumer science part-time teaching position will now also teach personal finance to help with the half-time reduction in the business department.
•  A theater department position will flex to allow students to earn fine arts credit outside of the traditional school day by participating in school productions.
Also, OV is bidding out its food service program, which will cut four food service positions from the budget for next year.
Through these reallocations, a total of 4.5 full-time equivalent positions will actually be cut, including a half-time business teacher, the part-time ELO coordinator position, a half-time custodial position, and four part-time food service positions.
The board also approved a school budget warning that includes Article 6, which asks voters to expand the use of the Reserve Fund to include grounds and equipment, in addition to maintenance, repair and facilities funding. There is roughly $500,000 in the fund.
The reason for the wording change is to authorize the OV board to use $50,000 from the fund for new computer equipment.

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