UD-3 on track for 1.3 percent hike

MIDDLEBURY — Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) voters in March will be asked to approve a UD-3 school spending plan of $17,287,008 for the 2015-2016 academic year, which reflects a 1.3-percent increase compared to this year.
The UD-3 budget covers the combined annual operating expenses for Middlebury Union middle and high schools. The spending plan is fielded each year by residents in the ACSU towns that feed MUMS and MUHS: Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Salisbury, Shoreham, Ripton and Weybridge.
It should also be noted that in addition to voting on the UD-3 budget on Town Meeting Day, ACSU voters on Feb. 24 will be asked to approve making $400,000 in capital improvements to various campus facilities, including security cameras at MUMS. The district already has the $400,000 in hand.
Meanwhile, members of the UD-3 school board will be advancing a 2015-2016 budget that features one of the more modest spending increases in many years. The MUHS portion of the budget is being set at $11,311,807, or a 0.83-percent increase compared to this year. The MUMS portion is being pitched at $5,975,201, which represents a 2.2 percent hike.
“We’re pleased about the final budget number, especially considering the changes in health insurance and salaries are both higher than 1.3 percent,” UD-3 board Chairman Peter Conlon said.
Indeed, UD-3 teachers are in line for a 3-percent salary increase next year, as negotiated in the most recent union contract. The district will also see a 4.5 percent increase in health insurance premiums. But those increases in fixed costs are being somewhat offset by other savings and revenues. For example, Conlon noted UD-3’s early retirement incentive program has attracted more takers than had been anticipated, thereby allowing the district to replace some senior staff with newer teachers who will command smaller salaries. Those newer teachers will serve a student body whose numbers, at least for now, are in decline. School officials are projecting that MUMS/MUHS will serve 967.71 “equalized pupils” next year, down from the current 992.35. The term “equalized pupils” relates to the average daily membership for secondary students averaged over two years and weighted for poverty factors, English proficiency and other factors as defined by the state of Vermont.
“I believe this budget adequately allows us to address the needs of students,” MUHS Principal Bill Lawson said of the spending plan. “In my opinion, that the high school was able to produce a budget with less than 1 percent growth is due to the board’s and the superintendent’s willingness to offer a retirement incentive.”
Also reducing the UD-3 budget line: an anticipated reduction of $162,746 in special education expenses. Transportation aid is also pegged to increase by $6,483, while the district’s dental insurance premium is expected to decrease by 8.1 percent, according to statistics shared by the ACSU administration. Interest payments are expected to decrease on construction debt associated with the building of MUMS and renovations to MUHS almost two decades ago.
Peter Burrows, superintendent of the ACSU, said he believes the proposed $17,287,008 spending plan for UD-3 provides the necessary resources to give district students a good education while also recognizing the financial resources of area taxpayers.
ACSU officials are currently studying the potential impact the proposed UD-3 budget would have on the education property tax rates in the seven district towns. The UD-3 tax impact is customarily considered in concert with the communities’ respective elementary school budgets to produce an overall K-12 education property tax impact for each town.
With the UD-3 budget finalized for a vote, school officials are sizing up the various projects that will be included within the separate $400,000 referendum that ACSU voters will decide at the district’s annual meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 24. The proposed projects include:
•  Renovating the bathrooms outside of the MUHS auditorium.
•  Renovating four science classrooms at MUHS.
•  Making sure key windows at MUMS are shatter-proof, for security reasons.
•  Improving security — including the installation of additional cameras — at both MUMS and MUHS.
•  Addressing an alarming amount of erosion that has been occurring along the Otter Creek riverbank near the Fucile field off Creek Road. The erosion is occurring near an area where many UD-3 teams play sports.
“It clearly needs to be addressed,” Conlon said of the erosion issues.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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