Addison Central School budget draft reflects teacher cuts

ADDISON — The Addison Central School board on Thursday moved closer to adopting a 2014-2015 budget that would not trigger a tax increase if residents support it in March, but would mean the loss of one full-time teacher and the school’s part-time math instructor.
Addison Northwest Supervisory Union business manager Kathy Cannon said the impact of that roughly $1.517 million spending plan on the town’s school tax rate would be a drop of about a half-cent.
But that impact does not include Vergennes Union High School spending. ANwSU officials said the VUHS board faces tough challenges this year, including bond payments, what Superintendent Tom O’Brien called “major and unanticipated special education costs,” and, like Addison, a lower enrollment that will drive up per-pupil spending and thus, in turn, ANwSU towns’ tax rates.
The VUHS board is set to meet this Monday at 6 p.m. at the school to continue to work on its 2014-2015 budget.
Officials said the Addison Central staffing cuts — also including reduced hours for the school custodian and one food service worker — are being made in response to a projected drop in enrollment from 70 this school year to 60 next year.
ACS Principal and Assistant ANwSU Superintendent Wayne Howe said ACS would merge two classrooms to make possible the faculty reduction.
Howe said how those classrooms would be merged would be determined by school officials and an ACS leadership team if the budget is approved in March: They will look at the school’s 3rd, 4th and 5th grades, those with the fewest students.
“Certainly, it will require combining classes, and as the sizes indicate we will be able to do that and still stay within quality standards,” he said. “We’ll be looking at those grades and seeking how we can configure those. We’ve already combined first and second.”
Howe said the ACS board will almost certainly soon make final the cuts it discussed last week, which total around $141,000 in apple-to-apple spending.
But due to a state-mandated accounting change in special education that will add a net of $54,000 to the ACS budget next year and due to other cost increases, the budget draft the board looked at last week calls for a spending decrease of $48,000, or about 3 percent.
Overall, in two years, the ACS budget will have dropped from about $1.68 million to $1.565 million during the current school year to the $1.517 million on the table for next year.
Those decreases are part of a longer trend. Howe said the board has worked hard to control spending while the school’s student count has dropped from about 140 to its current level during his dozen-year tenure.
“This will be the fifth year the board has presented a net decrease budget,” Howe said. “That takes a lot of self-discipline to do that five years in a row.”
Within the budget, ACS is facing a $121,000 higher special education assessment from the ANwSU office in the 2014-2015 school year, but that will be offset by $67,000 of higher state revenue provided, officials said.
The special education law is designed to share the burden of special education on a wider basis within supervisory unions and prevent the dramatic impact on school budgets that just one or two special needs students can have.
“Over a period of time it avoids the spikes in any given year (in an individual school),” O’Brien said.
Howe said although during the next school year ACS may pay extra, the system also protects ACS in the future.
“That could flip at any point,” Howe said.
And the ANwSU business manager noted towns would see a tax impact that would have been lower than otherwise from special education spending at the VUHS level.
“It might be a wash when you look at the tax rate, because at the high school their tax rate has decreased,” Cannon said.
The ACS board did look hard at ending the school’s food service program entirely and bringing in food from Vergennes Union Elementary School, a move that would have saved money.
But Howe said board members agreed with residents who said the ACS food service and manager Carmen Jochum provided valuable services, including by meeting individual families and students’ needs and helping out pupils who forgot lunches.
“The board really wants to have food service continued to be offered at Addison as part of the life of the community,” Howe said. “Certainly the food service adds a lot of value not just strictly in terms of nutrition and dollars.”
Some residents, but not all, also said they were concerned about further classroom mergers, Howe said, but the board felt it had no choice in that matter.
“There is certainly recognition in the community and in the staff that some of these things are inevitable given the enrollment and the financial circumstances we have,” he said.
Giving up the part-time math position was also a tough decision. ACS has been recognized statewide as a school showing improvement in test scores for its low-income students, an honor that officials attribute at least in part to the extra help in math.
Howe said he expects excellence in math instruction to continue, however.
“Not only the student-teacher ratio, but all the years co-teaching with this math teacher has put the classroom teachers in a position where they should be in a position where they should be able to continue to deliver some really good, high-quality math instruction,” he said.
Finally, Howe, the longest-serving principal in the 55-year history of ACS, also said last week he will almost certainly not return, regardless of whether his application to be the fulltime ANwSU superintendent is successful.
“In almost any circumstance I won’t be there regardless of what happens here,” Howe said. “It will be time to move on one way or another.”
The ACS board will begin advertising for a part-time principal over the next couple months, and Howe will look back fondly at his time there.
“I have loved being in Addison,” he said. 

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