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Mary Hogan Elementary budget includes new Spanish program

MIDDLEBURY — ID-4 school directors are seeking voter support for a 2016-2017 Mary Hogan Elementary School budget of $7,391,279, a plan that reflects a 9.08 percent increase in spending, but a much smaller 1.44 percent bump in the homestead education property tax rate.
And Middlebury school directors note that the overall education property tax rate for local students in grades pre-K through 12 is expected to decrease by 4.08 percent, due in part to a substantial increase in students that will in turn net the community more state assistance.
“I’m really happy with the budget,” ID-4 board Chairwoman Ruth Hardy said.
The proposed ID-4 spending plan — which for the first time this year will be decided by Australian ballot on Town Meeting Day, as opposed to by voice vote in April — essentially reflects the same academic programming as this year, with a few notable additions.
Most notably, the budget includes a Spanish language teacher for grades 3 through 6. ID-4 school directors have for the past several years tried to re-establish a foreign language program at Mary Hogan Elementary, but the expense has been an obstacle. That will change this fall, however, as the salary for the new Spanish instructor will be offset by the elimination of a classroom teaching position that will not be needed. Principal Tom Buzzell explained four sections of this year’s second grade will be moving into three sections of third grade next fall. Because of a related teacher retirement, no one will need to be laid off, according to Buzzell.
Also influencing the ID-4 budget in a big way: The state’s universal pre-K requirement. All school districts will be given state assistance to ensure families have access to pre-K programming for the 3-, 4- and/or 5-year-olds. Families can use their pre-K allowance within their local school or to help pay for tuition at a separate, certified program.
The state mandate will ramp up Mary Hogan Elementary’s current pre-K offerings and will add $147,360 to the ID-4 budget bottom line, according to statistics provided by the district.
“That had a huge impact on our budget, both from an expense side and enrollment side,” Hardy said.
Next year’s budget also allows for a part-time “academic interventionist” position to be boosted from the equivalent of four-tenths of full-time to a position that is full-time. There will also be a second interventionist paid through a federal grant. Academic interventionists, Buzzell explained, provide extra help to students who are not performing at grade level, but who are not in need of special education services. One of the interventionists will specialize in math, the other in reading, according to Buzzell.
Other factors affecting the proposed 2016-2017 ID-4 spending plan are a contracted 3-percent increase in teacher salaries and a 7.9-percent hike in health insurance premiums.
Buzzell noted that the tax impacts of the proposed spending plan are being somewhat offset by an 11-percent boost in equalized pupils (the method by which the state figures its local aid figures), from the current 415 to 460. District voters will also be asked, at their annual meeting on Feb. 29, to apply $150,000 in fund balance to offset taxes.
“We’re seeing a tremendous increase in additional students included in our count, and in the funding required to support those students,” Buzzell said. “More families with elementary-age students are moving into town than in the past.”
Hardy said around 20 students have joined Mary Hogan Elementary during the past five months alone.
This stands in stark contrast to many other Addison Central Supervisory Union communities that continue to see a steady decline in student numbers. This is also a statewide phenomenon.
“Fortunately, the increase in enrollment allows us to continue to offer the excellent programming we are offering,” Buzzell said. “Other schools in the state are having to reduce their offerings.”
The ID-4 annual meeting is slated for 6 p.m. on Feb. 29 in the Middlebury municipal gym.
Australian ballot voting on the budget will take place on Tuesday, March 1.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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