Draft budget calls for two layoffs at MUMS

MIDDLEBURY — The UD-3 school board will spend the next six weeks fine tuning the first draft of a 2014-2015 budget of $17,157,619, a spending plan that reflects a 3.45-percent increase while resulting in a reduction of  two full-time teaching positions at Middlebury Union Middle School.
“I think it’s been a positive process,” ACSU Superintendent Peter Burrows said of the budget preparation, which will continue at the UD-3 board’s Nov. 19 meeting.
The UD-3 budget covers operating expenses for both MUMS and Middlebury Union High School. The two schools serve students in grades 7-12 from the Addison Central Supervisory Union-member towns of Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge. The proposed spending plan reflects a 3-percent pay increase for teachers and executive staff, as well as a 4.5-percent hike in health insurance premiums.
“It was a lot lower than we had expected,” Burrows said of the health insurance-related increase.
It should be noted that the 2014-15 UD-3 budget proposal reflects an increase of more than $131,000 that can be linked to the new manner in which ACSU special education and central office costs will be assessed to district schools. These costs will be centralized and assessed based on the number of students per town, as opposed to by teacher counts or by individual schools. This consequently exacts a heavier financial toll for student-heavy UD-3. Residents in most ACSU towns should however see a corresponding decrease in assessments at the elementary school level.
Like most schools in Vermont, UD-3 is contending with shrinking student enrollment, a factor that is weighing heavily in budget deliberations. The enrollment drop is slated to be particularly acute at MUMS next year, where a particularly large, 180-student 8th-grade class will be matriculating to MUHS. The departure of that class, coupled with a smaller incoming 7th-grade class, is expected to translate to around 35 fewer students at MUMS next year, according to UD-3 officials.
Faced with such a drop from the current enrollment of 298, MUMS Principal Patrick Reen has proposed some substantial cuts to next year’s spending plan, tentatively placed at $5,837,112, a 0.84-percent decrease. During an interview on Tuesday, Reen said the two teaching positions — expected to save a combined total of $155,500 — would be culled from the science and social studies departments. The teachers’ collective bargaining agreement sets forth a process through which the district may conduct a reduction in force, known as a RIF. Generally, teachers with the least seniority are most vulnerable when RIFs are implemented.
Reen added that one less special educator will be needed at MUMS next year, a position that might be reassigned to another ACSU school. Reen’s draft budget also calls for the school to carry four full-time math positions instead of the current 4.2.
“It’s been very difficult; we are talking about some pretty significant changes,” Reen said. “The thought of losing some great people is very discouraging, to say the least.”
Still, Reen noted that the MUMS community has known for several years that enrollment was expected to dip and therefore necessitate fewer personnel. The school was able to avert major personnel cuts in the recent past when the financial picture improved at the time budgets were finalized.
Reen does not expect that to happen this year.
“Unfortunately, the (budget crunch) is here, it’s real and it’s here to stay and we have to make adjustments accordingly,” Reen said.
The UD-3 board has already authorized an early retirement incentive program in an effort to trim personnel costs for next year. The intent of the program is to induce veteran teachers to retire so that less seasoned replacements can be hired at a lower cost. William Lawson, principal of MUHS, said on Nov. 5 that he expects as many as four of his teachers to opt for early retirement. That would have the effect of cutting the MUHS portion of the UD-3 budget by around $60,000, according to Lawson. At this point it remains uncertain how many MUMS teachers might opt for early retirement. Teachers have until Dec. 1 to take part in the program, according to Burrows.
Going hand-in-hand with Reen’s suggested teacher cuts would be a proposal to reduce the number of student academic teams at MUMS from the current four to three. Currently, students in grades 7 and 8 are divided amongst four academic teams: Ohana, Mosaic, Paragon and Phoenix. Students in each team share a camaraderie and a slate of teachers who work together on their teaching programs. In his budget proposal for next year, Reen is proposing to downsize to three teams, with each one featuring a combination of 7th graders and 8th graders.
Other major MUMS cuts proposed by Reen include reduced professional services (to save $16,800) and reduced administrative salaries (to save $41,000). He has proposed some increases, too, including $24,300 for new social studies texts and $17,500 for increased computer instruction services.
While MUMS is preparing for a large student drop, Lawson and his colleagues at MUHS are budgeting for a temporary enrollment surge of more than 30 students. The larger student body along with rising personnel and health care costs couple with the assessment changes are resulting in MUHS pitching a 2014-15 budget of $11,320,507, a 5.81-percent spending increase.
Notable expenses within the proposed MUHS spending plan include $24,855 in early retirement incentive money; $13,000 related to summer school wages; $42,000 for athletics and co-curricular activities, much of it associated with the purchase of new football helmets and uniforms, as well as the addition of four new stipend positions for “Ultimate Frisbee” and after-school supervision; and $10,500 for the addition of 66 days of administrative support in the MUHS administrative office. Lawson explained those additional administrative support days are intended to restore previous cuts made to a secretarial position within the office. That secretary currently does not work on Mondays nor during the month of July.
The proposed MUHS budget also reflects the combined $75,000 expense for roughly 3.5 full-time-equivalent paraprofessionals at MUHS that were previously budgeted as special education positions.
Leonard Barrett, chairman of the UD-3 board, said he and his colleagues are generally comfortable with the overall 3.45 percent spending increase. He noted around 1 percent of that increase can be tied to the aforementioned change in ACSU assessments for special education and central office. Barrett said he is looking forward to hearing Reen’s budget presentation, as Reen was away at a conference when the UD-3 spending plan was unveiled to the board on Nov. 5.
“We want to hear what (Reen) is really thinking, and why,” Barrett said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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