ID-4 budget calls for new teaching post

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury voters this April will be asked to support a Mary Hogan Elementary School budget of $6,647,165 for the 2014-15 academic year, a spending plan that reflects a 3.56-percent increase.
That spending hike is primarily being driven by increases in employee salaries and health care benefits and by a proposal to establish a fourth first-grade class at the growing school.
The ID-4 board recently signed off on the budget, which will be considered at the district’s annual meeting on Wednesday, April 9, at 7:30 p.m. at the Mary Hogan school.
The warning will include a separate proposal for $225,000 to finance a new play structure to replace the aging Kidspace. That $225,000 will be covered through education reserve funds and could be further reduced through grants and donations, according to school officials.
Mary Hogan Elementary school currently serves 408 children grades K-12 and projections call for an additional four students next year. Five years ago, the school was serving 385 students.
Buzzell also noted that an increasing percentage of ID-4 enrollees are eligible for free or reduced-rate lunches. Around 23 percent of the school population fit into that category during the 2001-2002 academic year, while the number has increased to more than 43 percent this year.
“We are one of the few schools in Vermont that is seeing a slight increase in student population,” said Mary Hogan Principal Tom Buzzell said, referring to the statewide trend of declining enrollment.
Buzzell said the school currently serves around 70 kindergartners who will matriculate to the first grade next year. There are now three first-grade classes. The ID-4 board, based on feedback from parents, has sought to keep classroom enrollment at around 16 children for grades K-2.
That has prompted school directors to recommend the fourth first-grade section, which will require the hiring of an additional teacher at the first- and second-grade level, plus an aide. A large incoming kindergarten class is also expected this fall, according to Buzzell.
“We think (the four sections) will allow for instructional programming that is best for students at our school,” Buzzell said. “With three sections, we are concerned it would not be able to provide the individual instruction to allow for the best student learning to take place.”
Approximately 90 full- and part-time employees are on the Mary Hogan School payroll. Approximately 40 of those are teachers, according to Buzzell. The current teachers’ contract expires this summer, and officials have factored in a 3-percent salary increase for next school year and a 4.5-percent increase in health care premiums. Talks continue for a new teachers’ contract for all faculty in the Addison Central Supervisory Union.
Buzzell called the proposed 2014-15 budget “a continuation of the education efforts and funding priorities we’ve established in past years,” adding the spending plan does not include any major new initiatives other than the one new teacher.
But he pointed to a few smaller budget drivers that he said should boost student achievement and spice up the school day.
School directors have budgeted $9,500 for new computer lab equipment that will allow students in grades 3-6 to take new tests through the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) of the Common Core State Standards.
The Mary Hogan School is dropping New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) testing, except for in science. Buzzell said the online SBAC testing has a feature through which students can immediately be fed a tougher question after each correct response. The testing also can feed students less difficult questions following wrong responses.
Mary Hogan School leaders are always looking for ways to increase school offerings without boosting education taxes, according to Buzzell. The school’s annual read-a-thon raises $16,000 to $17,000 for field trips and other extra-curricular opportunities. The ID-4’s McGilton Memorial Fund is expected to generate almost $30,000 for special programs, such as Camp Keewaydin and a trip to Boston.
The proposed budget also includes $5,000 to add some locally grown produce and meats to school cafeteria offerings.
“We’d like students to get a better understanding of the vibrant agricultural community we have here,” Buzzell said.
If approved as presented, the ID-4 budget would add 2.6 cents to Middlebury’s equalized homestead tax rate. When added to the impact of the UD-3 budget (for Middlebury Union Middle and High schools), Middlebury’s residential rate increases by 9 cents, or $90 on $100,000 of appraised property value.
Ruth Hardy, chairwoman of the ID-4 board, is pleased with the proposed budget and the playground proposal.
 “The ID-4 Board is proud to put before the voters a fiscally and educationally responsible budget that will serve our community and students well,” Hardy said.
“We are proud to offer an exciting new playground design to our students and community,” she added. “While it is sad that the beloved Kidspace structure must come down, the new structure will be accessible, affordable, and safe. It will be funded completely with grants, donations and education reserve funds, and therefore our community will see no tax increase to support this important project.”
Additional information about the playground project can be found on the Mary Hogan School website, officials said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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