Bristol school budget to be decided on Tuesday

BRISTOL — Local school directors here are hoping for a strong voter turnout at the polls on Tuesday, June 16, when the third version of a proposed 2015-2016 Bristol Elementary School (BES) budget will be decided.
The proposed spending plan of $4,918,334 represents a 2.48-percent increase compared to the current BES budget of $4,799,307, which runs through June 30. But perhaps of more interest to local taxpayers than the bottom line is the fact that the new spending plan reflects a decrease of around $64 in spending per pupil (from the current $14,567 per pupil to $14,503).
This is the main reason that approval of the BES budget on June 16 would result in an $18 reduction in education property taxes for the owner of a home valued at $200,000. The savings would be $27 for the owner of a $300,000 home, and $9 for a homestead valued at $100,000, according to figures provided by the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union.
Another factor causing the tax decrease, according to school officials, was that the Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) has increased from 92.24 percent in fiscal year 2014-2015 to 93.49 percent in 2015-2016. The CLA is a formula that adjusts tax rates to ensure that homes are taxed on their current fair market value.
BES board members Elin Melchior and Krista Siringo discussed the latest budget draft at a public meeting on Saturday, June 6, that drew two citizens, a reporter and Rep. Fred Baser, R-Bristol. The board has been looking to get more feedback from voters, who on March 3 defeated — by a 377 to 276 tally — an original BES spending proposal of $4.931 million. School directors trimmed $2,700 and made some other adjustments that would have allowed for restoration of some instructional positions. But residents rejected that revised spending plan on April 14 by a 224-20166 tally.
School officials went back to the drawing board and trimmed another $11,000 to produce the plan that will be decided next Tuesday. This past Saturday, Melchior and Siringo discussed various features of the latest budget draft, which includes some of the following cuts as compared to the current BES spending plan:
• 2.5 fewer full-time-equivalent “general education paraprofessional” positions.
• 2 fewer full-time-equivalent classroom teaching positions, which would boost the average class size at BES from the current 16 to 18.
• A reduction of 0.8 FTE in the category of school-based clinicians.
• The withholding of $10,000 that had been earmarked for the BES sinking fund and $3,840 for furniture and fixtures.
Melchior and Siringo noted that the budget also includes two noteworthy additions (compared to 2014-2015) to strengthen educational offerings: Around $51,600 to help subsidize a district math coach; and $98,051 to provide grants of approximately $3,000 to $4,000 to local families for pre-K education for their children. Melchior noted the state Legislature in 2014 passed a “universal pre-K” law that requires all school districts to provide 10 hours of high-quality, free pre-kindergarten each week to all 3- and 4-year-olds whose families choose to enroll them. The state elected to delay implementation until 2017, but BES officials had the money budgeted for this year and have decided to proceed with the offering.
“We thought as a board that this might be a better year to add this to the budget rather than next year,” Melchior said.
Also reflected in the budget are teaching assistants for the three kindergarten classrooms, single (as opposed to combined) classes for kindergarten and grades one and two, and key repairs to the BES roof and parking lot.
School officials have heard from residents concerned about school spending and the financial hardship of increasing education property taxes. But they have also heard from some residents who have asserted the BES budget cuts have been too deep. Melchior and Siringo said they believe the latest draft reflects a good balance between taxpayers’ ability to pay and providing a quality education to the town’s children.
Current enrollment at BES is 274 students. And the school is expecting a handful of additional students next year, which bodes well for its financial situation going forward, officials said. More students means more per-pupil grant money from the state.
Of course school enrollment can change dramatically during a short time based on families moving in or out of a district.
“A budget is a planning document,” Melchior said. “You don’t always know what’s going to happen.”
School planning efforts would be significantly hampered if the BES budget does not pass next Tuesday, officials said. The school would be able to borrow up to 87 percent of the current year’s budget, but there are some caveats, according to information provided by Addison Northeast Supervisory Union CFO Howard Mansfield. He said the 87-percent rule is calculated by taking last year’s budget (fiscal year 2014-2015) times 87 percent, then subtracting all local, state and federal grant revenues anticipated for FY 2015-2016. Other required subtractions include any budget surplus carried over from fiscal year 2014.
“The total going to Bristol before a budget passes from all sources cannot exceed 87 percent,” Mansfield indicated in his memo. “As the school year starts, cash flow issues may cause us to make financial changes because of the 87 percent limits, if the budget does not pass next week. The cash flow issue becomes more significant as the school year continues.
“If the budget does not pass next week, we will have to address spending at 87 percent and we will have to anticipate cuts that may be necessary to meet the 87 percent immediately in order to plan ahead,” he added.
The 13-percent cuts (the difference between 100 percent and 87 percent) that may need to happen total $623,909.91, according to Mansfield.
School board members on Saturday were asked if they had received any criticism for not holding the BES vote in conjunction with the June 9 vote on the Mount Abraham Union High School spending plan.
“No, we’ve only been told it’s a good idea,” Melchior said. “It’s a different school and it’s a different issue. The thought was that we wanted (voters) to see them as two separate issues.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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