VUHS budget draft calls for staff cuts

VERGENNES — Voters in the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union got their first look at what next year’s budget for Vergennes Union High School may look like when district administrators presented a draft to the school board Monday evening.
The initial budget draft for the 2016 fiscal year, which totals $10.5 million, is 11 percent higher than the $9.4 million budget for the present fiscal year. Superintendent JoAn Canning estimated that budget would necessitate a 6-cent education tax rate increase that would translate to $60 per every $100,000 of assessed property value.
According to ANwSU estimates, lowering the tax rate increase by one cent would require $225,000 to be shaved from the VUHS budget.
Canning said the budget is unlikely to win any enthusiastic supporters, but is a financially responsible plan that sets the school on the right track for the future.
“We’re going down the wrong path and we have to make changes,” Canning said. “This may not be a budget that people feel good about, but it’s a correction budget.”
The spending plan calls for the reduction of the equivalent of 4.0 full time teaching positions. Canning said this would not mean that classes would be cut, but rather offered less frequently.
In order to meet needs in the school, the plan includes the addition of a 0.8-time position to work with literacy, and a one-third-time position for physical education to ensure that middle school students meet P.E. standards.
Last year, a majority of voters in each of the supervisory union’s five sending towns rejected the original budget proposal of $9.73 million, which would have raised taxes on homeowners from 13.5 to 16 percent.
Voters in May approved a pared-down budget of $9.4 million, which called for the elimination of the equivalent of 3.9 teaching positions. Those cuts were spread across many departments, including social studies, science, Spanish, French, library/media and physical education.
Canning on Monday declined to speak to specific positions on the chopping block, saying that she believed that discussion was premature, as those staffers may not yet know their jobs are in jeopardy.
“We’re not prepared to lay out what that looks like for you tonight,” Canning said.
The school board must also figure out how to retire substantial deficits incurred by past spending. The budget for the 2014 fiscal year failed to cover $768,749 in spending. There is also a deficit of $151,000 from the school’s food service program that grew to its present sum over the past decade.
But addressing those two deficits will not solve all of the school’s fiscal woes. Canning said that several expenses are either under-budgeted in the present spending plan, or absent from it entirely. She said these expenses include transportation, building operation, fuel costs, staff tuition, and student tuition — and that most are operational or contract obligations.
“It’s about $250,000 that has not been budgeted in fiscal year 2015,” Canning said.
It is unclear how the board and previous district administration failed to account for those expenses. Both Superintendent Tom O’Brien and business manager Kathleen Cannon left last year.
Canning said it is too early to project a deficit for the present fiscal year, but said that $250,000 figure could be curbed by reducing spending in other areas, such as transportation and energy.
The draft budget calls for the larger $768,749 deficit to be retired over five years. The board asked the administration to develop a plan to shorten that period to two to three years, while capping spending at $10.5 million.
This means that the Canning and her staff this week will look at other areas to cut to make room in the budget for quicker deficit retirement, and present those findings to the school board at the Jan. 12 meeting.
The administration outlined where they would look to cut. These strategies include reducing extracurricular activities like clubs and sports, reducing the two-principal model to just one principal, scaling back on technology spending, eliminating a world language, and cutting individualized learning programs.
The board will reconvene to discuss the budget at their meeting on Monday at 6 p.m. in the VUHS library.

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