VUHS board will hold Saturday session to craft new budget plan

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School board has decided to meet this Saturday morning to make final a new budget proposal to present to Addison Northwest Supervisory Union voters on June 9.
The meeting will be held at 9 a.m. in the VUHS library.
The board on May 11 originally planned on gathering on May 28 to adopt a spending plan for the 2015-2016 school year, but Superintendent JoAn Canning said on Monday that board members in deciding to move the meeting date wanted more time to present a new budget to residents.
“We’re going to get as much information out to the public as possible,” Canning said.
The board is considering carefully its next step after a May 5 defeat of a two-tier budget plan. Article 1, a $10.31 million proposal, lost 722-676, or 46 votes. That plan cut $156,000 from the VUHS budget proposed on Town Meeting Day.
A second proposal appeared on the same ballot to approve the $10.31 million and also restore that $156,000 lost by 843-556 (a 287-vote difference). School officials now believe that adding that second article hurt chances of passing the first article.
Even the $10.31 million plan would have increased VUHS spending by $900,000. But school officials say their hands are tied, at least in part, due to inadequate budgeting practices by previous administrations.
For example, proposed spending increases included about $256,000 toward retiring a $768,419 special education deficit, plus about $439,000 in higher anticipated spending on special education; officials said that figure represents a more realistic estimate of those costs.
On this coming Saturday, Canning said the board will be looking at both cost-cutting measures and moves to reduce the tax impact of a new budget.
Administrators and board members had hoped the new residential statewide education tax rate would not increase at all, but were at least happy that it rose by just 1 cent to 99 cents, rather than 2 cents to $1.
Including all elementary school spending already approved, ANwSU officials had estimated if the $10.31 million VUHS budget had passed there would be homestead school tax increases of 5 cents in Waltham, 7 cents in Addison and Ferrisburgh, and 8.5 cents in Panton and Vergennes.
Those estimates had assumed the $1 statewide rate, meaning that the ANwSU rate estimates can be lowered by a cent before cuts are made to the VUHS budget.
“That helps a little bit, not as much as we were hoping,” Canning said.
The board will also consider paying off the school’s $768,419 special education deficit over a longer term of four or five years. That deficit occurred due to years of under-budgeting for special ed.
Officials at the May 11 VUHS board meeting said a five-year deficit retirement plan would lower the tax impact of the next VUHS budget by about 2 cents, while a four-year plan would save about a penny on the tax rate. City Manager Mel Hawley and Alderwoman Lynn Donnelly on May 11 urged the board to adopt a five-year approach.
The board also asked Canning and Principal Stephanie Taylor to present options for budget cuts ranging from $55,000 to $114,000.
Each $55,000 in cuts saves a cent on the rate, officials said, and each cent on the tax rate translates to $10 per $100,000 of assessed value.
For example, if the board were to retire the deficit over five years and make $55,000 of cuts — and the lower-than-projected state rate was figured in — the ANwSU estimates could be lowered by roughly 4 cents, or $80 on a $200,000 home.
In this example, new estimates for ANwSU school tax increases could resemble 1 cent in Waltham, 3 cents in Addison and Ferrisburgh, and 4.5 cents in Panton and Vergennes.
Canning said she and Taylor would be urging the board not to go beyond $55,000 in cuts to the $10.31 million previously proposed, and to look at the five-year deficit plan.
Cuts beyond $55,000 would mean substantial reductions in the school’s extra-curricular offerings, including sports teams, Canning said.
“I am hoping they will accept the lower number, because that will cut significantly into extra-curricular programs,” she said. “We can’t do it without big-ticket items.” 
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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