Proposed UD-3 spending plan reflects a 1-percent increase

MIDDLEBURY — The UD-3 school board on Tuesday got its first look at a draft budget that calls for a 1-percent increase in spending for Middlebury Union middle and high schools during the 2016-2017 academic year.
Addison Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Peter Burrows said the spending plan would also place the district $93,845 clear of a state mandate that UD-3 hold itself to no more than a 0.71-pecent increase in per-pupil spending for fiscal year 2017.
The state has authorized per-pupil spending increases ranging from zero to 5.5 percent for school districts in Vermont as part of transitioning to a consolidated school governance structure under Act 46.
The education property tax implications of this first draft of a UD-3 budget will not be clearly known until Dec. 15, Burrows said, alluding to the date by which the Vermont Agency of Education is due to present school districts with more up-to-date state aid and other finance information.
Burrows noted that some Vermont legislators are talking about easing up on the per-pupil spending threshold under Act 46. But there is no guarantee that will happen.
“The House Education Committee got together to talk about potential changes they might make, and they wanted to get together prior to the session starting (in early January), because any changes they do make have to be done right at the opening of the gate,” Burrows said. “School districts across the state are approving budgets in early January (for voters to consider in March).”
At this point, Burrows said the UD-3 board should prepare itself for a worst-case scenario.
“I’ve heard rumors (about possible Act 46 changes) and I don’t want to fall on one side or the other right now,” Burrows said at a Tuesday meeting of the board. “I think the prudent thing to do is to build our budgets with this cost-containment measure as a reality, and if it goes away, we will celebrate and move on from there.”
The proposed UD-3 spending plan of $18,793,826 reflects a 0.2-percent increase in education spending, and a 0.46-percent hike in overall spending in comparison to this year, according to Burrows. It reflects the application of $300,000 in surplus money toward improvements to MUHS and MUMS security, as well as some new lockers at the high school. It also calls for another $289,000 in surplus to be used to offset the tax impacts of the fiscal year 2017 spending proposal.
“That is partially what brings down our costs for the coming year, along with making some small changes… from FY ’16 to FY ’18,” Burrows said.
Bill Lawson and Patrick Reen, principals of MUHS and MUMS, respectively, at Tuesday’s meeting outlined some of the small changes to which Burrows referred.
Lawson said he was able to find some significant savings in the high school portion of the UD-3 budget. Some of it relates to the recent replacement of veteran teachers with lower-salaried educators, as well as less-than-anticipated fuel oil and electricity costs. And he praised MUHS teachers for submitting course funding requests that in some cases were the same as this year. Bonding and transportation budgets are also proposed to be level funded, he noted.
On the other hand, Lawson said, he’s anticipating a 7.9-percent increase in health insurance premiums and increased costs associated with alternative education programming.
The high school budget reflects three new positions, including a foreign languages teacher and a guidance counselor to specifically help students with post-secondary education planning. Tuesday’s board meeting included a broad discussion about college counseling resources at MUHS that will be covered in the Dec. 7 issue of the Independent.
Lawson stressed the budget could still change based on unanticipated events.
“A couple of kids moving in or out of the district can throw the budget either way, particularly if they have special needs,” Lawson said.
Reen said the MUMS budget also benefitted from the recent retirement of some veteran teachers and added his teachers also made an effort to present course funding requests that were on the lower side.
The UD-3 board is slated to meet on Dec. 15 to speak further about the budget and to decide whether to again offer an early retirement incentive program to teachers. The program has induced several teachers to retire in recent years, allowing the schools to hire replacements at lower salaries.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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