Mount Abe seeking level funding in FY 2016 budget

BRISTOL — On Town Meeting Day, residents of the five-town area will vote on a proposed Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School budget that features spending that is virtually the same as what was approved for the current fiscal year.
The Fiscal Year 2015-2016 budget, approved by the Mount Abe board last week, calls for $14.06 million in spending, which is a fraction of a percent less than the $14.09 million spending plan voters approved last year.
The district has not yet calculated how this proposal would affect tax rates in each of the five sending towns in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union — Bristol, Lincoln, New Haven, Starksboro and Monkton.
That lower budget coincides with a decrease in equalized pupils at the Bristol school, a formula used by the Agency of Education to apportion state funds to each supervisory union.
Mount Abe is projected to have 795.41 equalized pupils next year, down from 823.38 this year, and 830.71 in the 2013-14 academic year. Enrollment at Mount Abraham peaked in the early 2000s, and supervisory union officials project it will continue to decline for several years.
Many line items in next year’s budget proposal saw decreases from the present fiscal year including professional staff salaries (down 5.3 percent), assistant salaries (45.2 percent) and other support staff salaries (11.4 percent). In total, the school projects to spend more than $400,000 less on staff salaries in FY 2016 than the present year. As a direct result, the schools will spend $40,500 less on Social Security taxes.
Other line item decreases from the present year include water and sewer ($1,419), repairs and maintenance services ($6,261), pool maintenance ($4,548), student transportation ($2,297) and electricity ($155).
Increases in line items from the present fiscal year include tuition to private schools ($162,832), tuition to vocational programs ($14,882), software ($4,284), Internet ($5,500) and computers ($50,000). The supervisory union created a new line item for construction services, totaling $245,160.
A budget surplus from the previous fiscal year totaling $165,000 made the difference between a 2016 budget proposal that was higher or lower than the present year. As of December, the district was also projecting a slight budget surplus for the present year, totaling $154,583.
Voters will get the opportunity to weigh in on the budget on Town Meeting Day, March 3.
Throughout the process of drafting a 2016 budget for Mount Abraham, the board has simultaneously discussed the long-term goal of renovating the school.
After voters this past November rejected a proposed $33 million bond to finance significant renovations to the nearly 50-year-old building, the board vowed to develop a plan that would be more palatable for taxpayers.
The board appointed a new committee — made up of board members, community members, parents and school officials — to develop a new proposal.
Shawna Sherwin, who serves both on the board and the committee, said the group is not right now focusing on tweaking the renovation plan, but rather redoubling its efforts to engage with community members.
“We’re are putting some questions together to give to each of the elementary school boards,” Sherwin said. “In the next couple months we’ll be trying to engage with the people we didn’t in the first round, and then we’ll go from there.”
While convincing voters to approve the draft budget for each of the five elementary schools, Mount Abraham and the ANeSU central office is the more immediate priority, Sherwin said the feedback the committee receives from residents about what they’d like to see in a fixed-up high school will be invaluable as it drafts a new proposal.
She added that it is too early to speculate on when the committee may make a report to the school board, or when the board may put a proposal before voters. But she said that all the work the board and community members did on the first proposal did not go to waste.
“We’re not going back to square one, just back to square three,” Sherwin said.

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