High school budget plans vary widely

ADDISON COUNTY — Along with the other business on their respective town meeting plates, Addison County voters will be deciding four high school budgets to cover the 2015-2016 academic year.
The proposed budgets range from the $14.09 million proposal from Mount Abraham Union High School that reflects a $300,000 decrease in spending, to the $10.47 million spending plan being pitched by Vergennes Union High school that represents an 11-percent hike. That VUHS increase reflects, among other things, the retirement of $256,000 of a $768,419 deficit that is being carried over from this past school year.
The four high school budgets will be decided by Australian ballot on Tuesday, March 3.
The MAUHS budget proposal assumes that $400,000 less will be spent on staff salaries next year, which in turn will mean a $40,500 reduction in Social Security taxes. 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.
Other line item decreases from the present year include water and sewer ($1,419); repairs and maintenance services ($6,261); swimming pool maintenance ($4,548); student transportation ($2,297); and electricity ($155).
But there are also some increases in line items compared to the present fiscal year, including tuition to private schools ($162,832), tuition to vocational programs ($14,882), software ($4,284), and Internet ($5,500) and computers ($50,000).
The supervisory union created a new line item for construction services, totaling $245,160.
The school is projected to have 795.41 equalized pupils in grades 7-12 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.
Mount Abraham serves students in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union towns of Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro.
Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) voters on March 3 will asked to approve a UD-3 school budget of $17,287,008 for the 2015-2016 academic year, a spending plan that 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.
The MUHS portion of the UD-3 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.
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 3.9 percent increase in health insurance premiums. But those increases in fixed costs are being somewhat offset by other savings and revenues. For example, 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 new hires who will command smaller salaries. Those newer teachers will serve a student body that, at least for now, is 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.
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.
Residents of Brandon, Goshen, Leicester, Pittsford, Sudbury and Whiting will cast ballots on an Otter Valley Union High School spending proposal of $10,718,131, which translates into an increase of 1.83 percent ($192,414) compared to this year. But in spite of that relatively modest increase, the union homestead education property tax rate would increase by an average of roughly 7 cents, or 4.6 percent.
The effect on the local homestead tax rate will result in a tax rate increase of roughly 7 or 8 cents, depending on which town served by OV the taxpayer lives in.
Drivers in the budget include a 10-percent decrease in revenues and almost double the worker’s compensation and unemployment costs, according to Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union Business Manager Brenda Fleming. She indicated a spike in the number of claims is responsible for the worker’s comp increase. Those claims are mostly relate to falls on the job, she said.
Like many schools, OV is taking advantage of the fact that more senior teachers, who are paid more, are retiring to keep spending down. That, coupled with falling fuel prices and an uptick in tuitioned students, plus delaying certain expenses, have allowed the board to rein in spending. Otter Valley is slated to see 12 more tuitioned students next year, which will add almost $100,000 in revenue. There are eight students expected from Chittenden, one from Mendon, one from Rutland Town and two from Hubbardton.
Like many Vermont schools, Otter Valley has seen a decline in enrollment over the last 15 years. In 2001-2002, there were 747 students at OV. In 2011, that number dropped to 580 students. This year, there are 560 students. Falling enrollment means lower state funding. OV’s per equalized pupil spending is projected to rise by $709 in the coming fiscal year, from the current rate of $14,453 to a projected $15,162.
The Vergennes Union High School board is proposing a 2015-2016 budget of $10.47 million that administrators said will begin to dig VUHS out of its deep financial hole and would more accurately reflect the cost of operating the school after what they claim has been years of underfunded spending.
The budget calls for an 11-percent spending increase, or about $1 million, beyond what the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union voters approved for the high school this past spring.
That 11-percent increase comes in spite of several proposed spending cuts: faculty reductions that equal a net of three full-time teaching jobs, a fulltime maintenance job, $84,000 in maintenance, $23,700 in extracurricular activities, and a number of smaller cuts in supplies and transportation.
These proposed staff cuts follow reductions equaling 3.9 full-time jobs a year ago.
Residential education property tax increases in Addison Northwest Supervisory Union communities, assuming all spending measures for all ANwSU school pass and lawmakers add 2 cents to the statewide education tax rate, will range from about 6 cents in Waltham to about 10 cents in Panton.
Vergennes Union High School serves students in the ANwSU communities of Ferrisburgh, Vergennes, Addison, Panton and Waltham.
A separate article on Town Meeting Day would add $100,000 to a VUHS fund devoted to major building improvements and repairs.
Residents in most Addison County towns will also be voting on the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center’s proposed 2015-2016 budget of $3,496,478, which reflects a 2.24-percent increase over this year’s spending plan. It however also reflects a 14.7 percent boost in the tuition rate for enrollees of the three Addison County high school districts to which the PHCC provides technical education programs — Mount Abe, Vergennes and Middlebury union.
The PHCC’s proposed tuition rate of $20,244 is roughly $2,000 more than this year’s rate and is a consequence of a recent pattern of declining enrollment at the PHCC. The career center is funded based on a six-semester average of full-time equivalent students. The past six semesters have yielded an average enrollment of only around 124 students at the PHCC. The career center rebounded nicely this fall with an enrollment of approximately 148 full-time equivalent students, but that was not enough to have a big impact on the six-semester average.
The Addison Central Supervisory Union would feel the biggest impact from the proposed tuition increase. That’s because MUHS is responsible for the largest proportion (around 60 percent) of PHCC enrollees. Consequently, current projections call for the ACSU’s career center assessment to rise from the current $680,835 to $784,798, according to figures provided by the ACSU central office.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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