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ID-4 budget, playground plan face vote April 9

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury residents will gather at Mary Hogan Elementary School on Wednesday, April 9, to consider an ID-4 budget of $6,647,165 for 2014-15, and determine whether to spend $225,000 to finance a new play structure that would replace Kidspace.
The ID-4 annual meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. and features three money articles. The main attraction will be the proposed ID-4 spending plan, which represents a 3.65-percent increase compared to this year’s budget. The increase is mainly associated with employee salaries and benefits, as well as a proposal to establish a fourth 1st-grade class at  the school, which has seen its enrollment grow from 285 students in 2010 to 412 children this past month.
Mary Hogan is one of the few elementary schools in the state bucking what has been a trend of declining enrollment. The school currently serves around 70 kindergartners who will move on to 1st grade next year. There are now three 1st-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 1st-grade section, which will require the hiring of an additional 1st/2nd-grade teacher and a paraprofessional. A substantial incoming kindergarten class is also expected this fall, according to Mary Hogan Elementary School Principal Tom Buzzell.
School boards in the Addison Central Supervisory Union are currently reviewing a proposed new, three-year contract for teachers in the ACSU’s seven elementary schools as well as Middlebury Union Middle and High schools. Ratification of the pact — which would include ID-4 teachers — could come later this month. For planning purposes, ID-4 officials have factored in a 3-percent salary increase for next school year and a 4.5-percent increase in health care premiums. There are currently 90 full- and part-time workers on the ID-4 payroll, approximately 40 of whom are teachers.
“This budget generally maintains existing programs and staffing with a few slight changes,” Buzzell said.
Those slight changes include a $5,000 outlay to add some locally grown produce and meats to school cafeteria offerings. The budget also reflects a growing commitment to the “Shakespeare: It’s Elementary!” collaboration between Mary Hogan School and the Town Hall Theater.
Buzzell said the spending plan calls for a slight reduction in ID-4’s Challenge Program, which would carry 1.2 full-time equivalent positions instead of the current 1.5. But he stressed the school will continue to offer rigorous programming.
“We’re looking to continue to grow our science, technology and engineering opportunities across all grade levels,” Buzzell said.
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 the subject of science.
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), the K-12 homestead rate increases by 9 cents, or $90 on $100,000 of appraised property value.
Ruth Hardy, ID-4 board chairwoman, said she believes the budget strikes a good balance.
“The ID-4 Board is aware of the financial pressures many in our community face, and has crafted a budget that meets the needs of our children while also being fair to the Middlebury taxpayers,” she said. “The budget … includes reductions in some administrative and teaching staff expenses, and investments in curricular technology, local foods and facility operations oversight. The school’s increasing enrollment necessitates one new classroom teacher, and further special education investments through a period of financial transition in this area.”
The other main item on the ID-4 annual meeting agenda calls for the purchase and installation of a new playground structure that will replace the 27-year-old Kidspace.
It was around five years ago that ID-4 officials began to take a hard look at Kidspace, a popular wooden play structure installed back in 1987 with the help of around 1,300 community volunteers. Kidspace has outpaced its 20-year life expectancy and is showing signs of wear and tear, including splintering. An ID-4 Playground/Facilities Committee formed to consider new options and ultimately recommended a plan pitched by Pettinelli & Associates, a Burlington-based company that has built many playgrounds throughout the state, including structures in East Middlebury, Leicester, Vergennes and Shoreham.
The proposed playground structure would occupy an area of 93 feet by 76 feet. It would be fabricated primarily of powder-coated steel, with various plastic components that would include slides and climbing hand-holds. The playground design includes such features as an inter-connected series of ramps, bridges and towers with multiple slide and climbing elements. Plans also call for a significant number of rope climbers.
School officials stressed the $225,000 cost will be paid entirely through gifts, grants and reserve funds that the school has socked away during the past several years. Ongoing maintenance of the new playground is expected to be minimal.
“The Mary Hogan School playground is arguably the most well utilized recreational facility in our town, serving over 400 children every school day and hundreds more on weekends and over the summer,” Hardy said. “Play is central to the education of children, as they learn to negotiate the world, prepare for classroom instruction, and maintain healthy bodies. We are excited to be able to offer our children a safe, accessible and fun playground, and hope the community will support us in this effort.”
Also on the April 9 warning is an article seeking permission to transfer $100,865 from the school’s fiscal year 2013 unassigned fund balance (currently containing $209,073) to the education reserve fund. Buzzell explained the transfer is designed to give the school a financial cushion in case of any emergency capital project(s) that might surface next year.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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